Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’: A Track-By-Track Album Review

The wait is ova. No really, this is actually not a joke this time! For months on end, I’ve professed my confusion with Rihanna‘s #R8 era and how incredibly messy the rollout was (I’m looking directly at you, TIDAL). But after careful consideration, I’ve reinstated my Navy membership because ANTI — released — is that damn good.

Playing as the older, wiser sister to 2009’s Rated RANTI finds the Bad Gal owning her crown as a fearless, somber and frustratingly unpredictable artist who after a decade has solidified the middle-finger status that so many rising pop girls of today painfully strive for. This attitude is reflected in her most cohesive album to date, as it is fueled by defiance, allure, rawness and erotica that prefers a more confined tone than the hard-hitting RIHUS that we’ve gotten spoiled by used to. If you were looking for Rihanna to fulfill a certain musical expectation of yours, then you’ve come to the wrong album. And at this point in her career, she has earned that right. As Madonna did with Erotica or American Life and Janet Jackson with The Velvet Rope, the Bajan native is diving full-force into a unapologetically sharp, strange and uncomfortable left field with ANTI. Sorry, but you won’t find a Sia, Calvin Harris or Stargate credit on this one — and it’s kind of refreshing.

I know most people (including some Idolator readers) were craving for a bop or a banger from Riri in the style of “BBHMM” or one of the “It” fairy/sparkle/neon pop girls of the moment. But a wise man once said: “N*ggas want my old sh*t, buy my old album.” Keep this in mind: At this point, Rihanna doesn’t owe us anything! If you want something to rave & shout “YASSSS” to, revert back to Good Girl Gone Bad, Loud or Talk That Talk that cram in danceable hits (she has 13 No. 1s to choose from, by the way) to last a lifetime. But for ANTI, Rihanna is continuing to be a trendsetter and doing the music that SHE wants to do. You can’t argue with that!

Like the starlet told us in her recent CBS Grammys promo:

So with that being said…let’s get into my track-by-track review of the album, shall we?

1. “Consideration” (feat. SZA) — This opening track sets the tone of the album, as Rihanna proves she is the one steering the wheel of her career. The dubby, abstract production provides the perfect backdrop to the singer’s sharp fluctuations and lyrical nods to her 2014 transition from Def Jam to Roc Nation. Make no mistake, Rih is in creative control this time around. And the floral vocal addition from SZA (seriously, when is her next project coming?) elevates the track to edgier heights.

2. “James Joint” — This sparkling interlude was first shared last year (on 4/20, to be exact), and it’s a total gem. Named after James Fauntleroy, a famed singer/songwriter/producer and frequent Rihanna collaborator, there is a certain whimsy to it that will make you think of sunflowers, sand and smoke. “I’d rather be smoking weed whenever we breathe” is the very-suitable introductory lyric, after all!

3. “Kiss It Better” — I’ve been pushing #JusticeForKissItBetter promo ever since that Instagram snippet surfaced back in December 2014, and I — along with many other fans who couldn’t get the guitar loop out of their heads for a year — am so glad it has now become one of the strongest tracks off ANTI. With credits by Glass John, Natalia Kills and the musical master who is Jeff Bhasker, “Kiss It Better” is a toxic thrill about an addicting love that slipped through her fingers — and now she wants it back even if it feels like crack. It is a little bit of ’80s Prince, a splash of TLC‘s “Red Light Special” and all-around beautifully intimate. And that heartbreaking electric guitar riff alone deserves a couple of future nominations.

4. “Work” — When placed in the context of the LP, it is now clear why Rihanna and her team chose this to be the lead single. It is the sole “uptempo” track that will please fans who were looking for more of a danceable tune (try not to whine your waistline to this), but is also mellow enough to fit in with its counterparts. But this one is mainly for the others who have been waiting for her to provide another island breeze that vibrantly reflects Riri’s Caribbean roots. “Work” flirts with Dancehall (please don’t whitewash it with that “tropical house” nonsense) in a cheeky way and it’s always fun to have Drake hop on a track, but I still feel the overall outcome is more lazy than effortless.

5. “Desperado” — One of the more chilling tracks on the LP, “Desperado” finds Rihanna channeling her inner sinister Western anti-hero (no pun intended). The rumbling interpolation of BANKS‘ 2013 “Waiting Game” single makes it all the more haunting. Someone call up Quentin Tarantino for the pending video treatment now!

6. “Woo” — Now this is where you can hear alleged once-maybe boyfriend Travi$ Scott‘s influence. Featuring production by Hit-Boy and other all-star credits like The Weeknd, and The-Dream, “Woo” is a stinging, low-eyed talk to an ex-flame that gives way to relatable, tumultuous emotions. The opening lyric, “I bet she could never make you cry/ Cause the scars on your heart are still mine,” will cut you deep.

7. “Needed Me” — “Didn’t they tell you I’m a savage? / Fuck a white horse and a carriage / Bet you never could imagine.” Produced by DJ Mustard, this addictive track has all the potential to become every female’s anthem. If you needed any more reasons to leave fuckboys behind in 2015, give this song a few plays as you transcend into a confident, self-empowered woman who can throw away immature men as quickly as she changes her lipstick.

8. “Yeah, I Said It” — This may be produced by Timbaland with songwriting credits by Bibi Bourelly (who also did “BBHMM”) but I immediately get The Weeknd mixtape-era vibes from this slinky slow burner. Rih’s arousing vocals simmer just at the right temperature as she whispers “I want you to homicide it” and “Up against the wall.” You might want to clean up after giving this one a listen.

9. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” — Rihanna dives into the world of rock on this mesmerizing tune, as it is a cover (or karaoke as some have been calling it) of psychedelic outfit Tame Impala‘s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” taken from 2015’s Currents. The choice is very weird, oddly calming, euphoric and an example of the ever-growing “monogenre” theme that is currently rising in music.

10. “Never Ending” — Lean it a bit closer to your speakers, and you can hear the melody of Dido‘s 1999 hit “Thank You” swirled into this calming and slightly heartbreaking downtempo. While it’s not my favorite off ANTI, I can appreciate its delicate composition.

11. “Love On The Brain” — Sure, Rihanna’s past musical aesthetic had a wounded sensibility. But none of those other tracks showcase just how incredibly balanced it is. Taking influence from Amy Winehouse, Etta James (“Rather Go Blind”) and Sam Cooke, this rough-edged, soulful ballad finds Rih at her vocal best. I never thought I’d see the day when she tried her hand at ’50s doo-wop, and I’m not complaining!

12. “Higher”We were teased with this one almost one year ago, and the final result takes those Instagram snippets to new emotional heights. Opening with violins that would make a 2006 Christina Aguilera squeal, this pain-inflicted drunken fictional voicemail to her lover continues Rihanna’s plight of vulnerability. You can almost hear her swooshing on Johnnie Walker while frivolously smoking cigarettes on this tainted track.

13. “Close to You” — I’ve never been one for ballads like this, but those who are searching for a “Stay”-esque heartwarmer to sing at upcoming festivals will definitely love it. Once again, Rihanna brings her raw emotions to the forefront with a simple piano melody to prop her tender vocals up. It’s a suitable closer for an album that was all about the twists and turns of love.

Key Tracks: “Kiss It Better,” “Desperado,” “Needed Me”

Idolator Score: 4/5

Bianca Gracie

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