Artists are often wary of the potential ‘difficult second album’, being unsure of which musical direction to take and fearing not meeting the public’s expectations. In Rihanna’s case, it was to become the difficult eighth album. Throughout its construction, ‘Anti’ was plagued with issues regarding creative control, during which a great wealth of material was recorded and subsequently scrapped. Three successful singles were released in 2015; none of which are present on the album. Kanye West was once executive producer; Rihanna herself ended up assuming the role. What began as a short hiatus extended into a lengthy break for Rihanna as the release of ‘Anti’ became increasingly delayed and arguably, one of the most highly anticipated albums in years.
The finished product is a significant departure from the club bangers and massive Pop smashes Rihanna has become known for. It’s a moody and sullen affair, (not too dissimilar from 2009’s ‘Rated R‘) more a soundtrack for the aftermath of the party or the early-morning come-down than the party itself. This isn’t a criticism, however, it’s a powerful and compelling listen from start to finish.
Opener ‘Consideration’ is a dub-styled track with lo-fi elements, sparse production and Rihanna’s almost yodel-like vocals. The minimalistic production is a thread which is present throughout the remainder of the album, its simmering, dark tones resulting in a dark but enthralling album. ‘Needed Me’ is much in the same vein, comprised of unstable beats, tremulous synthesisers and eerie vocal samples. Lead single ‘Work’, a collaboration with Drake is a jittery reggae-influenced affair with mumbled, almost incomprehensible vocals whilst ‘Woo’ is abundant with furious distorted electric guitars and auto-tune soaked vocals.
The down-tempo softer moments also work well. ‘James Joint’ is a minute-long melodic soul interlude whilst ‘Yeah I Said It’ is a sulky soul ballad with mesmeric production. The inclusion of “Same Ol’ Mistakes”, an unexpected cover of Australian rock band Tame Impala’s ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ is an unconventional move but one which pays off. It’s a more or less carbon copy of the original both in its delivery and production but is in-fitting with the moody, psychedelic nature of the album.
The second half of the album is reserved for ballads. From the pretty and acoustic-driven ‘Never Ending’ to the Soul infused, waltz-like ‘Love on the Brain’, it’s a peculiar turn in direction but largely works nicely until ‘Higher’, on which Rihanna wails like a banshee in a style not too dissimilar to Sia. Thankfully the track is only two minutes and avoids putting too much strain on the listeners’ ears (and Rihanna’s vocals…)
Whilst ‘Anti’ is certainly a change in direction, elements of Rihanna’s signature sound are still littered throughout. ‘Desperado’ is a classic Rihanna track, dark and broody on which, stuttering beats, moody piano chords and Rihanna’s purred vocals result in an intoxicating R&B hit. Likewise, ‘Kiss it Better’, heavily influenced by progressive R&B and rock elements is one of the album’s highlights.
Closing track ‘Close to You’ is a stunning ballad and a fitting reminder of Rihanna’s impeccable ability to deliver heartfelt R&B ballads. Built of nothing more than gentle piano chords and Rihanna’s syrupy vocals, it’s perhaps her best and most emotive ballad of her career.
Its mixed response from critics and fans alike is justified. It’s a somewhat confused and indecisive album, mirroring its conception. Despite this however, its dark and disturbing tone and eclectic approach makes it a captivating album and one of Rihanna’s best.
- Rating: 4/5.
- Highlights: ‘Kiss it Better’, ‘Work’, ‘Desperado’, ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ and ‘Close to You’.
‘Anti’ is available now on Roc Nation records.