By: Brier Stucky
Anti, Rihanna’s eighth studio album, has been a long time coming. Her first since 2012’s smash Apologetic, many suspected her to release her follow up last year after releasing a pair of successful singles in “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen”, neither of which appear on this album. Seemingly out of nowhere, as with many recent major artists, Rihanna released the album on January 28th via the hi-fi streaming service Tidal, as well as tweeting out a free download of the album to her followers. The effectiveness of this release strategy, but what’s more important is the quality of the music. However, after a career built on massive hits and blockbuster albums, there may be a reason that her latest project was released free.
Now admittedly, I am not a part of Rihanna’s demographic, but on Anti, Rihanna seems unsure of who exactly is her audience. For her career up until this point, Rihanna has stuck with her successful mix of R&B, Pop, and Hip-Hop, something that was evident of her aforementioned 2015 singles. On this project, she seems to be embracing her R&B sides and following the recent trend of the genre as it moves towards a more sparse and experimental style that has been brought into the spotlight by artists like FKA Twigs, Jhene Aiko, and Wet. This decision to change her style works both for and against the album, leading to some very interesting tracks, but and overall feeling of uncertainty. One can’t help but wonder if the album was released for free because of fears about the album’s capacity for success. With few clear hits, Anti would have almost certainly failed to follow her past sales record if it had been given a typical release.
This may be Rihanna’s attempt to move into a new demographic, leaving behind her mega-popstar status and making the music she wants to make. This decision works quite well on the album, but only in spots. The album starts off interestingly with the track “Consideration”, which features a rather eccentric vocal performance from Rihanna over a sparse beat that sounds like something off of an early Odd Future release. It’s a short, simple track but it lets the listener know right off the bat that this is a new Rihanna. “Kiss it Better”, one of the albums best tracks, especially instrumentally, is a surprisingly awesome track. Its hook combines Rihanna’s vocals with an accompanying lead guitar, working to great effect, and with Rihanna’s signature swagger and bravado, the track really comes to life. The over six minute “Same Ol’ Mistakes”, a cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” is also a highlight of the album, dark and infectious DJ Mustard produced “Needed Me”.
With a majority of the album doing its best to avoid sounding like hit pop songs, it becomes annoyingly apparent when the album is trying to include a hit. The album’s undoubtedly worst track “Work” was also Rihanna’s only single for the album, released just days before the album. The beat is interesting, but the vocals, especially the hook are just dreadfully lazy, not to mention the completely unnecessary Drake feature. The album’s last four tracks feel like an attempt to generate some hits, but it feel incredibly out of place and just recycle old, uninteresting styles. “Never Ending” is a bland love song that sounds like a track she could have released ten years ago. “Love on the Brain” models an old school soul track, and the final two songs “Higher” and “Close to You” feel like Rihanna’s attempt at an Adele impersonation. The album’s final stretch isn’t terrible, it’s just a shame that it brings a rather progressive album back into the present, and completely fails to meld with the mostly excellent first half.
Anti is a step in the right direction for Rihanna, and her follow up to this album could be great if she figures out the kind of artist she wants to be. It’s difficult for an artist of her status to mostly turn away the style that made her popular, and in that sense, this album is an applaud-worthy effort. However, Anti is an incomplete album, and therefore we’ll have to wait until her next album to potentially see a true change.