The Vault

From The Vault, Review: Rihanna – ‘ANTI’

Pop superstar Rihanna releases her long-awaited eighth album, via Jay Z’s TIDAL.

Pushing To Evolve

Using a fair amount of force, ‘Anti’ pushes to evolve 27-year-old Rihanna’s sound, and for the most part it’s successful.

‘Anti’ is a satisfyingly progressive and entertaining record. The Barbadian star seems to set aside any ambition to sell like some of her more malleable popstar peers. As a result, ‘Anti’ boasts no real breakout ‘We Found Love’ type chart hits.

‘Anti’ is not filler free, it’s not always career-defining. There are some forgettable entries in its tracklisting. Rihanna over relies on her formidable personality to sell the LP’s more passable tunes, and doing so usually isn’t enough to save them.

Having said that, compared to the majority of her back catalogue, ‘Anti’ is guided by a stronger artistic vision, and has real clout.

Listening to the project, it becomes easier to understand why 2015 singles, ‘American Oxygen’ and Paul McCartney/Kanye West collaboration ‘FourFiveSeconds’ have been omitted from ‘Anti’. They wouldn’t automatically fit the sexual, murky, upfront and ever-so-slightly serious undertones of the new release.

High Off A Sense of Freedom

Asking her lover for more personal freedom, Rihanna pointedly outlines the mind-set of the entire project on crunchy hip-hop soul album opener ‘Consideration’, alongside St. Louis-born, New Jersey-raised singer/songwriter SZA.

Addictive electro/dancehall concoction lead single ‘Work’ makes more sense when heard with the rest of the album.

As Rihanna sings in her own personal vernacular, high off a sense of freedom, the track’s hard-to-pin-down, easy-to-move-to beat simmers busily in the background. Rapper Drake’s guest spot ushers in a sense of grounding to a tune that basically writes its own rules as it plays out.

Built upon slow-burning sing-along hooks and a big hair/big rock Eighties vibe, highlight ‘Kiss It Better’ is perhaps the record’s most straightforward chart inclined moment. Pop princess Rihanna wastes no time laying out a few F-bombs over the tune’s grand, super effective and hypnotic melodic arcs.

Outlandish and Boastful

Rihanna’s vocal delivery steers ‘Anti’ into trap/hip-hop territory on the outlandish, boastful and fascinating ‘Woo’. Her vocals repeatedly break away from the track’s instrumental, which is propelled forward by urgent, stabbing, tense loops. The tune’s main refrain features eerily warped cooing and distressed, over-processed singing – ‘Woo’ feels inventive.

RiRi gets dark on her cover of Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala’s ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ entitled, ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’. Her version adds nothing much to Tame Impala’s original. Yet Rihanna’s trademark passionate dispassion moodily enhances the song’s nocturnal aura.

It’s interesting that ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ wasn’t reduced to four minutes for easy pop consumption. On ‘Anti’, it’s allowed to play out fully, for six and a half minutes.

A folksy, acoustic guitar driven affair, Rihanna is committed on ‘Never Ending’ – which unlike the majority of ‘Anti’ doesn’t command centre stage. The song sparkles with soothing, attractive melodies and harmonies – plus it adds another dimension to the singer.

Sex-fuelled R&B/trap cut, ‘Yeah, I Said It’ sets the scene and emanates intimacy. Making the most of the track’s spaciousness, its sensuality is allowed to unfurl and settle. Rihanna’s womanly needs also sit at the forefront of lo-fi, R&B/hip-hop leaning track, ‘Needed Me’, in which the star confidently admits to being a sexual “savage”.

A Little Drunk

RiRi can’t help but inject raunch into the retro soul backdrop of ‘Love On The Brain’. Calling upon her falsetto more than usual, the singer indulges in a range of snappy vocal tricks.

A little drunk, and probably lit, ‘Higher’ is an unleashed, supposedly whiskey-soaked, two-minute ode to her love. Giving a gutsy, snarling performance, Rihanna uses ‘Higher’ to explore the outer reaches of her vocal abilities.

The star communicates the right amount of sentiment needed in order to uplift the stripped down piano ballad ‘Close To You’. Pulling off this kind of song on a LP as fiery as ‘Anti’ is no easy feat. Nevertheless, Rihanna’s show-womanship shines as she does so.

Letting select guys know why a tryst with her is worth their while, RiRi continues to let her inner minx run amok on explicit bonus track ‘Sex With Me’.

Chaotic electro/hip-hop concoction ‘Pose’ takes a few listens to appreciate. It’s essentially a collage of vocals and hollering. Still, with the right people, in the right setting – as well as a fair amount of alcohol – ‘Pose’ could very well find its place.

Verdict: *******7/10

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