Rihanna is one of those artists I have never really cared that much about. I have absolutely nothing against her, she has made plenty of songs I would say I enjoy and I have grown up listening to her singles. She has just always seemed like one of those artists who exists solely to profit on the success of her radio-friendly singles. This album seemed to be going in the same direction, despite some cryptic advertising, with a variety of singles like the acoustic “FourFive Seconds,” the more hip-hop influenced “Bitch Better Have My Money,” and “American Oxygen”, her ode to the hard working American, which had a more of a pop sound. These singles were inconsistent in both sound and quality making me think this album would be another collection of tracks designed to get Rihanna on the radio with plenty of new material. That is why I was surprised when the album leaked and none of these singles made the cut.
With no expectations I listened through the album and was honestly not pleased at all with what I heard. The album seemed confused with the direction it wanted to go in and felt surprisingly rushed in some areas considering how long we have been hearing about this project. After a few more listens, I found that while these criticisms were still largely true, the album certainly has grown on me a bit.
First off, Rihanna herself definitely is mostly consistent with her delivery on this album. She is excellent and very emotive which works given how personal this album seems to be for her. Rihanna also wrote every song on Anti, besides the Tame Impala cover which I will get to, which also surprised me. It is clear from the opener “Consideration” that Rihanna is not satisfied with her place in the music industry and wants to be seen as more of an artist. This was theme I was excited to see be explored.
This was not the case as most of the tracks are about Rihanna’s relationships, most of which are with less than great people. Tracks like “James Joint” and “Desperado” show how Rihanna always seems to go for bad boys. This is only amplified when looking back on her personal life and relationship with Chris Brown. While I was thrown off by this, once I began to realize that the intent of Anti was to explore Rihanna’s attraction to negative influences I began to appreciate it more.
While appreciated, I feel as if Rihanna missed the mark when it came to creating a fully fleshed out concept album. This is mainly due to how underdeveloped some parts of this record feel. Tracks like “Yeah, I Said It” and especially “Higher” have so much promise to be great songs but instead they feel underwritten. Then we get to “Same Ol’ Mistakes” a cover of the amazing closing track “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” on Tame Impala’s last album Currents. The song thematically works excellently on Anti as it deals with changing your image but still being a flawed person. And even though I thought Rihanna’s deliver on the track was great and the song sounds great, it is actually just the original’s production and backing vocals copied and pasted with Rihanna’s voice. I do not know why this track is getting the acclaim it is getting because to me it seems incredibly lazy.
Many of the tracks fell flat for me as well, including the first single “Work.” The production on this track was weak as was Rihanna’s deliver which just lacked in passion and energy. I understand that the delivery ties into the lyrics where Rihanna sings about how she is being drained by all the work she does but it came across poorly. Drake’s verse was somewhat of a saving grace and added a little more to the song considering the two’s personal past.
By far the worst track was her collaboration with Travis Scott “Woo.” The song starts with an overwhelming and awkward mesh of instruments that sends a shiver down my spine in the worst way possible. I have never hated Travis Scott but he adds absolutely nothing to this track and the uncomfortable production takes any emotion Rihanna tries to add and sucks it out. This whole track is a mess which is why I found it so surprising artists like The Dream and The Weeknd had their hands in it.
As flawed as this project was I still think I would recommend it to people as long as they know what they are getting into it. There are no songs on this album that I can see leading the charts or getting substantial radio airplay but I assume Rihanna wanted it like that. This shows plenty of maturity and ambition from Rihanna and I hope she is able to build off of this in order to create something great. As for now, this serves as an interesting place in Rihanna’s career and will either be seen as a polarizing event or become forgotten over the years. I would actually prefer the former.