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Rihanna, ‘ANTI’ [ALBUM REVIEW]

ROC Nation
ROC Nation

It’s been a little over three years since Rihanna‘s last album, Unapologetic, dropped and the green-eyed singer found herself in the middle of a shift in the ever-changing music scene.

Aside from “Diamonds” and “Pour it Up,” RiRi’s last album fell flat as far as having chart toppers — especially considering the Bajan singer had a consistent string of hits throughout her career with songs fairly similar to the ones on Unapologetic.

Since then, Rihanna took a step back and ventured into film (Battleship, This is the End, Home) and fashion as she became the face for Christian Dior. And lest we forget, her annual return home for Kadooment. But without new music on the horizon, the move created a void in her repertoire. Finally in 2015, she re-emerged musically.

Her massive hit “Bitch Better Have My Money” set the tone last year but that money anthem isn’t found on ANTI — much to her fans’ disapproval. Her two other distinctive singles, “FourFiveSeconds” and “American Oxygen” were also nowhere to be found on the album.

Aside from those three (very different) singles released in 2015, it was unclear which direction Rihanna was taking for ANTI. But the title proves to be a fitting name for her latest effort.

Rihanna remains to be a fashion icon and an enigmatic personality who certainly carries pop culture influence. But with ANTI, the singer had something else to prove: Could she continue to be relevant in the music industry?

The verdict is “yes.”

ANTI, which means a opposition to a particular policy, activity, or idea; features all new songs from the seductive singer. As she shared before she does the “very antithesis of what the public expects.” And having an album drop (with fans knowing that it’s coming) without a single is a bold move.

The album title evokes rebelliousness and the cover art is stark, which led us to expect edgy tracks. And that’s just how ANTI starts out. But of course, greatness always come with a few hiccups.

The gritty opener, “Consideration” features a surprise collaboration with Top Dawg Entertainment singer SZA. And over the head bopping beat, produced by Kuk Harrell and Tyran Donaldson, it proves to be a promising start to an anarchistic album.

“I’d rather be smoking weed whenever we breathe every time you kiss me,” sings Rihanna in a smokey voice in “James Joint.” Over spacey sounds produced by Harrell and Shea Taylor, Rihanna continues her serenading soliloquy. But just as it seems the song is going to take off, it ends at just a little over a minute, leaving listeners wanting fmore. Rock guitar riffs, snares and Rihanna’s synthesized voice all give ‘80s Prince vibes in “Kiss it Better.” “Man, f— your pride,” sings Rihanna, showing off her infamously savage demeanor. But, it’s not all heartless. A symphonic chorale continuously asks “What are you willing to do” until Rihanna sweetly responds “kiss it better.”

The Drake-assisted “Work” dropped less than 24 hours before the album and also offered little insight on what ANTI would sound like either. But the bad gyal definitely showed her Caribbean roots with this one as it immediately incites one to start wining. We can already hear it playing at the West Indian Parade in Brooklyn, NY.

After the first five tracks,ANTI heads off into a medley of neo-soul and R&B with “Desperado” and a slowed down DJ Mustard beat (yes, it’s possible) in “Needed Me.” There aren’t many tracks that stand out but they are enjoyable nonetheless. Even “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” which is a a whopping six-minutes, melds into the former songs in a way that’s almost trancelike.

But ANTI picks back up towards the end with “Never Ending,” a carefree anthem similar to Jason Mraz’ “I’m Yours” as RiRi is left nearly alone with her voice and guitar plucks. Although unlike Mraz’ happy go-lucky track, Rihanna’s is more solemn. “It’s pulling me apart, this time / Everything is never ending / Slipped into a peril that I’ll never understand / This feeling always gets away / Wishing I could hold on longer / It doesn’t have to feel so strange / To be in love again / To be in love again / To be in love again,” she sings in the chorus.

“Love on the Brain” takes on a ’50s doo-wop style — and is akin to Al Green’s “For the Good Times” in sound while “Higher” gets more gospel.

“This whisky got me feeling pretty so pardon if I’m impolite,” she spews in “Higher,” the bare-it-all like song. It certainly captures the yearning of those drunk in love — convincing so because she was actually drunk during the recording session. “You take me higher than I’ve ever been,” she belts in the chorus.

ANTI ends with a personal track, “Close to You.” It’s a love song that could double as a ode to her fans. After she claims that a tear is the only thing she’s having for breakfast she sings “I look in your direction, hoping that the message goes.” It did, Rihanna. It did.

Rihanna’s eighth studio album doesn’t hold any specific tone. Similar to Rihanna’s previous albums like Loud and Talk That Talk, it bridges pop, R&B, reggae and a dash of hip-hop. The sum of the album is not for any specific genre fan, but the parts certainly hold something for a myriad of music lovers.

Download (limited quantity) or stream ANTI on TIDAL here.

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