Rihanna: Anti-radio, Anti-singles, Anti-climactic
OK, BEFORE we get into this, let’s clear something up. The promotion and release of Anti has been a mess, and when I say mess I mean total shit storm. Rihanna has been teasing her eighth studio album since 2014 now and has released three singles (none of which appear on Anti); the critically acclaimed ‘FourFiveSeconds’, divisive ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ and ‘American Oxygen’. The hype around this album has been huge, and then out of nowhere, Tidal, a platform we’d all forgotten existed, suddenly dropped the album, for free of all things. It’s less of a triumphant return, more a panicked reaction to a leak.
It echoes 2013, and the release of Beyoncé’s latest album, which was a triumph, both musically and in terms of the release. Rihanna has, to an extent has failed at both of these. The massive hype surrounding Anti has effectively killed it. The release seemed to be barely covered, while the promotion via some decent singles (not including ‘Work’) has build up the weight of expectation. If Rihanna had kept shtum and released this album on her own terms, maybe the surprise would have been pleasant.
When it comes to the actual music on Anti, I can appreciate what Rihanna is trying to do, but it doesn’t pay off as much as she’d like. It’s an album that certainly lives up to its name; it’s anti-single, anti-radio friendly… and anti-climactic. But kudos for Rihanna for creating that takes on a new perspective to her previous releases; there are very little ‘singles’ on this album, aside from ‘Work’ which is possibly the worst track on the album. It’s a song that has so little passion it actually sees Rihanna give up on singing and slur her way through the latter half of the album, after a lacklustre verse from Drake.
But it falls into this bracket of ‘new Rihanna’ that attempts to channel a more experimental attitude. Look at ‘Woo’, a track that apparently took seven people to write it, yet just sounds like a poor man’s Yeezus. There are other tracks where the song isn’t necessarily bad, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Admittedly Rihanna’s vocals aren’t terrible on some of these tracks, like ‘Needed Me’ and ‘Yeah, I Said It’, but they don’t really engross either. When we get to the final third of the album, Rihanna seems to pull from a variety of sources all at once. We have ‘Never Ending’ which has an air of Coldplay about it, and ‘Love on the Brain’ which seems to abandon the experimental side altogether and goes for a bland, radio-friendly sound, like Hozier or James Bay. Despite this, Rihanna’s vocals on this track get pretty passionate.
When we get to ‘Higher’, Rihanna’s choice of lyrics really clash with her Adele imitation and the music doesn’t go anywhere, or lend anything to the song. It’s a real slap-dash effort that feels messy and uninteresting. Closer ‘Close to You’ is more coherent. It feels more like a traditional Rihanna ballad, and it’s actually quite a relief after the switching from Pop, to experimental and so on. It’s not the greatest track ever, but it plays it safe and actually that pays off relatively well.
And it’s the points where more traditional Rihanna shines through that are often the best. While at the time you could give or take her at the time, it’s almost a relief to her here on some of these tracks. Opener ‘Consideration’ has a jagged RZA-esque beat and light synthesisers and great vocal melodies from both Rihanna and contributor SZA. It’s only around two minutes long, but it could well be the best two minutes on the entire album. Follow up ‘James Joint’ unfortunately falls into that Miley Cyrus lyrical area of “hey look at me I smoke weed”, but has a really nice old school funk groove, not unlike classic Stevie Wonder.
It’s a feel that Rihanna tries to bring across to the following track ‘Kiss It Better’, which also has similar vibes to 2013-era Beyoncé. This track starts of strong but the repeated riffs grow somewhat stale after the first few rounds. Later on in the album we have something really out of place; a TAME IMPALA COVER. The band’s ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ is reinterpreted as ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ on Anti. Does this lend anything to the album as a concept? No, not really, in fact all it really did was remind me how much I like Tame Impala. Rihanna’s vocals are decent, especially considering her change of style over the rest of this album, but it doesn’t really give her a chance to spread her wings, mostly because the song is meant for Kevin Parker’s vocals, which aren’t as broad and blend into the music. It might have made sense to change up the instrumentation, instead of just doing pure karaoke.
Despite mixed results, it’s slightly easier to respect Rihanna’s musicianship after Anti. While it might not have worked, it’s clear that Rihanna is trying to create an experimental album, what with the changes in style, and lack of radio worthy material. The issue is that, in a way, it feels like Rihanna is alienating both of her potential audiences. Her material isn’t strong enough for fans, unless really die hard, to really go mad about. It’s also not nearly experimental enough to break into the stream of fans who might not enjoy her music otherwise. While she pulls from a range of influences, she doesn’t go into any of them enough to make a worthwhile song. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of Pop, RnB, Experimental and Psychedelic; it’s a mess. The weight of expectation is going to disappoint some people as well; with such a massive hype, people expect results, but this album doesn’t hold them. It’s a good effort, but isn’t enough to be worth the hype. Good try Rihanna, better luck next time.
Editor’s Note: Due to Tidal being little bitches, no actual tracks from the album are on YouTube, you’ll have to put up with a better track instead.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter.