It has been more than three years since R&B and dance-pop singer Rihanna released her last album Unapologetic. Rihanna’s lengthy hiatus is surprising to many because ever since she released her 2005 debut album Music of the Sun, she has released or re-released an album nearly every year. Her hiatus was broken, however, with her much-anticipated release ANTI. ANTI arrived after various delays and much confusion. With Rihanna switching labels, distancing herself from the spotlight, venturing into acting and avoiding album discussion, many were hard-pressed and clueless as to what her ninth studio album would sound like.
In early 2015, however, Rihanna officially broke her silence. She returned to the music scene by releasing her new singles “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen.” A final single titled “FourFiveSeconds” was also released, with Rihanna collaborating with Kanye West and Beatles legend Paul McCartney. Additionally, Rihanna performed at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Surprisingly, none of these songs actually appear on the album.
ANTI is an experiment and feels much more like an experience than an album. It subconsciously showcases how far Rihanna has come as an artist, where she stands now and how she has once again reinvented her image. ANTI shifts from your “conventional” Rihanna album full of chart-topping hot singles, a variety of reggae-infused melodies and some pop ballads.
Interestingly enough, ANTI manages to complete Unapologetic’s trajectory. With Unapologetic, Rihanna began to venture into the world of unconventional production and complex rhythms with songs like “Phresh Out The Runway” and “Jump.” ANTI takes it a step further, delving deep into diverse genres such as folk, psychedelic and experimental. Tracks like “Woo” mix abrasive beats with grunge-like layered vocals, whereas “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is a cover of Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala’s song “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”
“Work” features Canadian rapper Drake. “Work” ignores all of the hype following Rihanna’s 2015 singles—it creates its own. The song quickly becomes a reggae track, showcasing Rihanna’s prominent Barbadian accent. It is one of the most danceable songs on the album, even though the production still incorporates a soft techno beat.
“Kiss It Better” is introduced with a faint electric guitar. Rihanna follows through with a memorable chorus and layered vocals. While the vocals of the song are classically Rihanna, the meticulous structure of the song is not.
Many songs span from one to two minutes and seem to be intentional cuts, each sounding drastically different from one another. For example, “James Joint” is a vibrant one-minute hymn about marijuana and love, as opposed to “Higher,” which is a two-minute mini-ballad with intoxicated and croaky, heartbroken vocals. It’s also backed by a crooning, noir-esque violin melody.
The highlights of the album, though, lie in ballads, such as the nearly four-minute long “Love On The Brain” where Rihanna uses her voice in an innovative way. Her raspy, jazzy vocals do not even sound like her at certain points.
“Never Ending” is another highlight of ANTI. Had I not known this was a track off of the album, I would’ve thought it was sung by a folk musician. The country-esque vibe of the song is backed by acoustic guitars and soft, light vocals. I found this song distinct due to its sound; it offers a refreshing break from the overarching experimental sound of the album, even though “Never Ending” is ironically experimental within itself; toying with a genre and sound that Rihanna hasn’t explored before.
Though some may not have found ANTI to be worth the wait, I think it is an asset to Rihanna’s discography. No one could have expected what ANTI was going to be like and if that was one of Rihanna’s goals, she surely accomplished it.