Anti has been hyped up as Rihanna’s big artistic statement – not so much focusing on the commercial side, but that might be a slight exaggeration on what’s been expected. Anti is definitely the least poppy album Rihanna’s made – there’s no instant ‘Diamonds’ or ‘What’s My Name?’, though there are obviously pop songs buried deeper. Rihanna’s made it much harder to try and consume her album on a surface album, releasing lines of poetry alongside the album as well as the cryptic album artwork which looks absolutely nothing like anything she’s put on the front before. The simple fact that Rihanna isn’t on her own front cover for one of the biggest pop stars in the world is a strange move. In fact, there are a few more strange moves embedded in the track listing, most notably a Tame Impala cover called ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ and ‘Desperado’, which almost sounds like it could have come from Kanye West (Kanye was initially slated to executive produce Anti). Unfortunately, the album peters off at the end in a style that sounds more in line with her older material, and whilst it might seem a good idea to have a variety in sound, there is enough variation in the new things Rihanna has brought to the table to go over old ground.
‘Desperado’, as previously mentioned, is up there with the other great tracks beginning the album. It consists of a thudding bass and trap drums with Rihanna’s more rap-like vocals beginning the track, before the chorus (suspiciously minimalist) drops in and she sings in a more traditional vocal for her. The song is more in line with dark goth-pop like Banks, which makes sense as the song plays on a light sample of her song ‘Waiting Game’. Imagine Rihanna trying to combine FKA Twigs with a less brittle instrumental and you might be in the right direction. Just before ‘Desperado’ comes ‘Work’, which compares working to, y’know, sex. Drake’s input is slotted into the end of the track and his line ‘If you had a twin, I’d still choose you’ might seem innocent, but both Rihanna and Drake criss-cross between the romantic side and the more sexual side. If you compare the single to ‘S&M’, which came out a few years ago, the track still accepts the sexual side of their relationship, but Rihanna puts it side by side with her career too.
It’s pretty hard not to talk about a Tame Impala cover, which is a bit like Drake covering Grizzly Bear, albeit the psychedelic crossover is more palpable between Anti and Currents and Rihanna directly addressing drug use (she’s just using for relaxing), but the cover is very faithful to the original. It’s almost a shame that Rihanna didn’t just use the bare bones of the track and turn it into some kind of trippy R’n’B like A$AP Rocky’s album last year, Long Live A$AP, which has definitely contributed to a more woozy style of R’n’B in the mainstream and Rihanna’s a part of that. The track works well within the context of the album, though it seems like another off-kilter move for an album lacking the major singles ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ and ‘FourFiveSeconds’. Remember when Foals didn’t put ‘Hummer’ on Antidotes? (Well you might not, there isn’t much genre crossover between Foals and Rihanna, but let’s say you do for the sake of the argument), it’s a bit like that. Commercial middle finger? Possibly. I’d say it’s more likely that Anti is rounded out by the songs included and previous singles might not have slotted on as smoothly. Still, I think the majority of people will weep for the lack of ‘BBHMM’ because it was such a controversial lightning-rod and at the end of the day – a banger.
If Rihanna continues on her Anti path, exploring the genres that she has dipped into on ‘BBHMM’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ might make an interesting psychedelic-R’n’B album, but Anti is the baby steps that she’s teased to. A mix-up of her styles wasn’t necessary at all – she’s released album after album of chart toppers with no sign of commercial slowdown, so the ‘artistic’ diversion is entirely her choice, besides, it’s not like Rihanna has much to lose at this point. The album dips in quality where she doesn’t take chances: ‘Yeah, I Said It’, ‘Close To You’, ‘Never Ending’, but as the majority of the album is those ‘chances’ it succeeds in breaking away from previous work into new, fresh terrain. Many pop albums can be glossy and lacking mistakes in the production, but Anti feels like it isn’t perfect, both in the lyrics and the production, where it can energetically jump between voice-shredding piano ballad ‘Higher’ or electro-pop ‘Desperado’. It’s setting a pretty cool standard for pop stars: Earn a lot by making what people want, then use that money to completely change predictions. Good one, RiRi.
Funnel Recommends: Work / Desperado / Same Ol’ Mistakes