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[Roc Nation/Westbury Road]
As ANTI opens with the slow dancehall rhythm on ‘Consideration’ and Rihanna in full Barbadian flow, you’d expect ANTI to be just another typical Rihanna album. Another typical Rihanna album would not be a bad thing, of course, but ANTI has Rihanna at her most reflective, most chilled and most genuine. This is her eighth album in 11 years and for all the partying, drinking and debauchery she sang about on previous albums, she’s clearly exhausted, so just wants to chill out and smoke a joint. That’s fair, right?
Stripped of big bangers and obvious commercial hits, ANTI takes it easy and with Rihanna releasing it as a free download on TIDAL, the streaming service she helped her pal Jay Z launch, it’s clear that she definitely has no fucks left to give. As she sings on ‘Consideration’; “I got to do things my own way darling”…
First single ‘Work’ features Drake and it sees her Bajan accent go harder than it did on 2010 single ‘Man Down’. This is the third arc in the Rihanna/Drake love story. Six years ago we had ‘What’s My Name?’ , a playful ditty, and then we had ‘Take Care’ in 2011, a minimalistic and troublesome love song, hinting at things to come. ‘Work’ sees the pair move on in their blurry-lined relationship, leaving the youthful themes behind. They’ve matured.
There’s a clear narrative on this album from start to finish, making it her most cohesive to date. She explores the positive and negative effects that drink and drugs play in a relationship, from ‘James Joint’ to the revengeful ‘Woo’. She looks at past relationships through a hazy, hungover gaze and with the clouded thoughts that only the morning after can provide, she dissects the wrongs and rights committed by both parties. For the most part, ANTI is about sustaining relationships, either emotionally or sexually, as seen on ‘Kiss It Better’, a 90s kickback song with a shrilling electric guitar riff that Lenny Kravitz would covet.
Last year, there was a trend in pop stars touching on indie sensibilities and marrying them with simplistic R&B beats. Selena Gomez’ ‘Good For You’ is a perfect example and Rih’s ‘Same ‘Ol Mistakes’ follows suit. Sampling Tame Impala’s ‘New Person’, Same Old Mistakes’ explores the complexities of new relationships. As she plays the role of a reassuring partner, seeing only the positives in a relationship, Kevin Parker’s original lyrics voice the insecurities we all feel when we start something new.
While Rihanna’s softer and vulnerable side is expressed on the ballad ‘Close To You’, her independence is stated and solidified on ‘Needed Me’, singing ”Fuck your white horse and a carriage”. Standout tracks ‘Love on the Brain’ and ‘Higher’ run back-to-back, catching Rihanna at her most playful. ‘Higher’ sounds like most of us at 3am, wailing down the phone because we need to tell our significant other how pretty they are and how lucky we are to have them. She’s just like us, really. A real gas ticket. ‘Love on the Brain’ has the structure of a 1950’s doo-wop love song but has her voice flipping from gentle high pitch to a snarl, demonstrating that her voice has taken centre stage on this album. The slow pace of ANTI finally lets Rihanna’s voice air out and using unusual techniques like wailing and roaring, making it one interesting body of work.
This is possibly Rihanna’s best work so far and even though she picked around mercilessly with the release dates, teasing us for months, we finally got the album that she wanted and deserved to make. And for that, Rihanna, we are most grateful.