It’s been a wild twenty-four hours for RiRi.
After months of speculation, a mysterious corporate-sponsored viral campaign, and release date rumors – we finally have Rihanna’s eighth studio album, ANTI.
After all of the delays and preparation though, it kind of stumbled into the world. Wednesday began with the official release of the album’s lead single “Work” – a minimal dancehall jam with a mundane verse from Drake and an earworm hook of stylistic slurring. A public hungry for anything from the Rated R singer ate it up and fire emojis of praise spread to the furthest corners of Twitter. Rumors continued the world would finally get ANTI in full on Friday, but the wait would only be a few hours.
The album was mistakenly uploaded to TIDAL later Wednesday, the streaming service that is owned partly by Rihanna along with Jay Z. The leak quickly spread and quick observers were able to scoop it up before anyone intended. This led to an actual unveiling that evening of the album which is currently available exclusively on TIDAL until Friday.
So now that ANTI is in the world, what does it sound like? In short, it’s more layered and complex than previous incarnations of the singer. Gone is the driving beat that strung together 2012’s Unapologetic – here Rihanna weaves THC tales, lovesick stories, and a “bad bitch” aesthetic over an array of styles. From shadowy alt-R&B grooves to a late-night strings section – RiRi can’t sit still. The result is that ANTI is short on bangers, but big on anthems. It remains to see if that still means hits. Here it is track by track.
Over a slowed bass and distorted break-beat, Rihanna’s got swag and defiance. “I’ve got to do things my own way darling, you should just let me. Will they ever respect me? No.” she sings with a snarl.
Named for Producer James Fauntleroy, this brief interlude plays out as a night of smoking and kissing while RiRi purrs over a twinkling organ.
Kiss It Better
Over a soaring 80’s power ballad guitar, she’s been done wrong but misses that loving because, “no one gonna get it like that.” It’s tough to hear some of these songs about a relationship ending badly and wanting someone back and not think of Rihanna’s most famous ex.
The world’s first real taste of ANTI, since previous singles “Bitch Better Have My Money”, “American Oxygen”, and “FourFiveSeconds” didn’t make the cut. Again, “Work” is impossible to listen to and not have burrowed in your ear for the day – unfortunately though the Drake offering is vanilla at best.
Some story telling over a chugging cinematic beat that echoes R&B Singer BANKS’ “Waiting Game”. Sidebar, why is everything all-caps these days? Broken shift keys? Anyway, there’s a painting here of love on the run and it plays out as one of the standouts for ANTI.
The beat for “Woo” is just menacing – straight out of the Travi$ Scott songbook. Makes sense as he’s there for the chorus. Here Rihanna vacillates about an ex-lover against a haunting backdrop.
Dressed in dark synth, a la The Weeknd. Her full “bad bitch” mode is on display as she croons “Didn’t they tell you I was a savage? **** your white horse and a carriage.”
Yeah, I Said It
Well now. This is just straight sex over a seductive beat. They won’t let me type most of what’s happening in this song, but Rihanna’s in complete control and not concerned with titles.
Same Ol’ Mistakes
So this is a curious one. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is a pretty faithful cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” from last year’s Currents. There’s no twist or spin on Rihanna’s version, just some karaoke with one of the world’s favorite singers.
After a middle-stretch of woozy dark R&B and the Tame Impala cover, the clouds break for this plucking Paul Simon-esque ballad of loss. It’s a hard right turn, but a showcase for the delicate side of Rihanna.
Love On The Brain
Alright, if previous songs on ANTI conjure up images of Chris Brown, this one straight up screams it. With imagery like “fist fighting with fire” and “It beats me black and blue, but it **** me so good”, “Love On The Brain” is the darkest spot on the album despite its shimmering 50’s school dance backing beat. It’s really a wild juxtaposition. “You love when I fall apart, so you can put me back together and throw me against the wall” she sings. Maybe it’s brave and vocalization for those that have been in similar situations, but at first glance it certainly feels like an excuse for returning to the worst of spots. Love is never an excuse to justify violence from any side.
On “Higher”, Rihanna turns to strings and whiskey for late night ramblings and one of the best moments of ANTI. In a short spurt her voice is unharnessed and she’s unhinged for a spectacular performance, pleading with an empty glass and a full ashtray about love.
Close To You
The closer for ANTI is a sad, sparse piano ballad from RiRi about lost connection. Longing and trying to reach out, it’s a downbeat bathtub of despair. What an incredibly sad way to leave an album.
Overall ANTI is a bit messy, and features a rare combination of sexy and lonely that’s tough to balance. The message is conflicting from song to song, and it feels more like stamps on the passport for an interesting life than anything cohesive. There’s not much of a vein that runs through it, other than an amazingly talented artist who’s loved, lost, and had a few late nights of thinking it over.