It’s been a few years since Rihanna’s latest release, Unapologetic, but she’s still managed to keep herself in the spotlight. With her Kanye and Paul McCartney collaboration, “FourFiveSeconds,” “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen,” the anticipation for her newest project was steadily increasing. Oddly enough, none of these songs are featured in Anti – Rihanna’s eighth studio album which was unexpectedly released on Tidal. While these three singles are surprisingly different from one another, the album we’ve been given leans more towards the dark, minimalist approach taken in “Bitch Better Have My Money.” I must be honest with something upfront: I’ve been mostly unimpressed with Rihanna’s work for the past few years, as I actually preferred the thematic middle ground between naughty and nice that was found on her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad. With that said, there’s simply no denying the fact that she’s undergone a transformation as an artist and individual throughout the years and possesses a certain degree of potential to flex her impressive voice and mature approach to R&B. It’s because of this potential that Anti is somewhat of a disappointment – an album that left me wishing that some things could have been different.
Rihanna’s greatest strength as an artist is her unique voice. While the instrumentals given to her don’t offer much of a challenge for her vocally, they certainly highlight her Barbadian accent. This is evident on the opening track, “Consideration,” which is both a bouncy and simplistic way of getting the ball rolling. After moving on to “Kiss It Better,” we are introduced to the first of many instances on the album where the lyricism is unfortunately lacking in substance. There’s undoubtedly a catchy melody in here, but the lyrics don’t exactly scratch deeply into the subject matter of rekindling broken relationships. On top of that, the guitar lead here sounds like not-so-subtle arena fodder.
Problems regarding relationships is a subject matter that can be found throughout the album. The issue with topics like this is that, while they are inherently universal and relatable, they must be used in creative or (in the case of pop music) catchy ways to stand out. These songs never left much of an impression on me, minus a few exceptions towards the end of the album, such as “Never Ending” and “Love on the Brain.” While the former’s analogy of a former lover as a ghost isn’t entirely original, it’s a competently-made song. The acoustic guitar also suits her style surprisingly well. “Love on the Brain” sounds like a nod to Amy Winehouse’s signature doo-wop sound. You can actually hear her voice cracking at a few moments in this track. It’s these kinds of passionate moments that I wish we heard more of throughout the record.
“Work” is a song that you may be familiar with by now, as it is the only official single off the album. Instrumentally, it reminds me of a DJ Mustard beat in its sparsity and pitter patter synthesizers. Luckily, there are nice additional layers of synth and piano placed throughout the track. Personally, I find the hook to be a little on the obnoxious side. I can forgive repetition, but there’s something about the way Rihanna delivers the chorus that just rubs me the wrong way. It comes off as lazy.
“Woo” has a stuttering guitar pattern that I actually find sonically interesting at first, but perhaps not enough to carry the whole song, as the instrumental doesn’t offer much else worth caring about. With “Needed Me,” Rihanna presents us with a song about female empowerment. While this is something I can totally get behind, I don’t think that the message is conveyed as effectively as it could’ve been. I will admit that it explores some dark subject matter, but the imagery isn’t visible enough to leave a lasting impression. The production isn’t the best on the record either, but it’s nice to hear DJ Mustard experiment with new sounds.
It seems as if Rihanna had, at the very least, one goal with Anti: to connect to listeners and critics in a way that would earn her some form of credibility. If the rest of the album doesn’t give off that impression, her cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” verifies this notion almost completely. There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way. Like I mentioned earlier, I can absolutely picture Rihanna as an artist who wants to evolve creatively. The stripped-down production manages to establish a tone, but it could’ve used a bit more experimentation with texture. Many of these songs also could’ve benefitted tremendously from better songwriters. When all is said and done, fans of her last few projects will almost definitely find something to like here. If this record is anything, it’s trendy. For me, it was an unfortunate circumstance where her intentions are more commendable than the product we were given.