For the release of ANTi, Rihanna makes adjustments to nearly every aspect of her career: ending the trajectory of releasing an album a year, departing from the ease of having hit after hit, and stepping away from the mould she so effortlessly created after becoming pigeon-holed as a pop star with little substance and songs that, despite their popularity, were rather hit or miss.
ANTi doesn’t come with the obvious hit her previous albums did, nor does it come with last year’s opposite-end-of-the-spectrum singles, the folky bonfire ballad FourFiveSeconds and the in-your-face trap-heavy Bitch Better Have My Money. Instead, Rihanna wipes the slate clean and digs deep into electronic and R&B-rooted pop songs that display flair and confidence over ease and mass-consumption.
Rihanna proclaims “I came fluttering in from Neverland/time can never stop me,” on the intro Consideration before SZA chimes in on the chorus. The island influence over a simple yet heavy beat is further support that Rihanna has deviated from her formula.
It’s not as left-field as initial suggestions claim. When Work dropped just hours before the album, I came into it expecting her Yeezus – that is to say something strange, alien and easily misunderstood (or poorly designed). Instead, it might better serve as Rih’s Beyoncé – that is daring, bold, but not unfamiliar.
There’s a wide blending of styles across the record, like the blend of electronica with R&B and hip-hop on Desperado, Woo and Needed Me. She channels Bey on Love On The Brain, goes a little folky on Never Ending, and covers a still-new song by Tame Impala (Same Ol’ Mistakes) that changes little from the original yet strangely feels like a perfect fit. Its very existence seems pointless but it’s a highlight.
ANTi is a non-pop pop album. Once the idea that there are no club bangers to be had is accepted, the songs begin to shine. The biggest downer is when she tries too hard to earn that ‘left field’ distinction, one she’s already received over the course of the last year or so. Tracks like James Joint, Higher and Work lessen the subtly of trying to ease away from the norm by shouting it out. In defence of Work, however, it’s the only track from ANTi that would have gotten the type of response it did as a first single – the “I can’t tell if I like it but it’s risky.” That’s all the defence can offer.
Like her previous output, ANTi has hits and misses, but as a whole, it serves as her most rewarding album. Once the mess of its roll-out was behind us, the strangeness faded revealing an album not that much of a stretch from Rihanna. It’s a collection of songs free from demands and expectations and as insignificant as that might be, it can work wonders.
1. Consideration [featuring SZA]
2. James Joint
3. Kiss It Better
4. Work [featuring Drake]
7. Needed Me
8. Yeah, I Said It
9. Same Ol’ Mistakes
10. Never Ending
11. Love On The Brain
13. Close To You