There are few in the music industry that carry as much global weight as Rihanna. The queens of the pop world all offer a different experience which allows them to maintain their massive fan base. Taylor Swift offers personal connection through experiences and song writing, Katy Perry is fun and optimistic, Beyonce is empowerment and respecting yourself, and Rihanna has given us freedom to express who you are. She’s never been afraid to say exactly what she wants, express exactly who she is. Unconcerned with yours or anyone’s opinion of her has made her special in that sense. By catering to no one she caters to everyone. In a world of over controlled artists always trying to present the best versions of themselves, Rihanna seems to offer the real version of herself, good or bad, and it’s a route other artists should follow.
Now, let’s talk ANTI. I think it’s a pretty universal thought that this album is good, but where does it stand against her other efforts. While I’ll need more time than a week with the record, I’d have to say that as of now it’s my favorite album since 2010’s Loud and honestly, has the potential to be my favorite record of hers. From a music and production standpoint this is easily her most diverse record, as she takes on a handful of genres and styles that, before now, were foreign. The trouble with doing this is that many times it can pull an artist in too many directions, hurting the albums flow. Even if all the singles are good, without them fitting together it becomes a choppy listen, removing any lasting effect it might have had on us. With that in mind I’m happy to say that, sans a couple tracks, this album runs beautifully throughout. “Consideration” opens it up with a simple but heavy beat as Rihanna and featured artist SZA implore a sort of pass the mic routine, which I loved. The technique is rarely utilized outside of the hip hop world so it’s always a pleasant surprise when I hear it. The next two tracks are, in my opinion, the only missteps on the album. “James Joint” is an interlude that I can only imagine was included to make the transition between the opener and the third track, “Kiss It Better”, less awkward. Though I felt like we needed another interlude between the opener and “James Joint” because those two don’t flow at all. “Kiss It Better” did grow on me a little, but ultimately it lacks life and also doesn’t fit the build of the album. Helping that assessment become even more evident is track four, and the lead single, “Work”, which easily fits into the same realm as “Consideration”. The rest of the album is excellent. “Desperado” is next and it’s easily my favorite track. With all the vocabulary at my disposal the best word that I can think of to describe it is…cool. Dammit it’s just COOL. Forgive me John Irving! The next song “Woo” plays like classic Kid Cudi, an alternative/ hip hop mashup; and after Cudi’s most recent record I’ll take any representation of his classic style that I can get. “Needed Me” is a perfect calm down after the last two and plays perfectly into the second interlude, the addictively sexy “Yeah, I Said It”. Every time I hear it I wish it was longer! Ok, at this point I’m just doing a track by track breakdown so I guess I’ll finish what I started because I’m committed to my craft. “Same Ol” Mistakes” was another of the albums most pleasant surprises. Produced by Kevin Parker (aka Tame Impala), it has the dreamy harmonies and serene presentation you’ve come to expect from him. It should also be stated that this feels like a legitimate track created for this album rather than a Tame Impala b-side. “Never Ending” makes for a nice transition out of the last track by keeping things simple and acoustic, taking on a slight bossa nova feel towards the end. “Love On The Brain” is an excellent modern doo-wop track with an alternative/ R&B twist, especially in the chorus, which blends perfectly with the third and final interlude “Higher” which is raw, retro soul. The final track, “Close To You”, is a delicate and simple ballad, and the closest thing to what we might deem an actual Rihanna track. It felt both fitting and necessary to close the album this way, capping off her new style while also showing she hasn’t lost the other side of her artistic expression.
ANTI, as a whole, is excellent. Tons of replay value and with all the tracks sounding so different it could easily turn into one of those albums where every song is your favorite at one point or another. Rihanna took a different approach here and it’s paid off in full, and by tackling styles that maybe, up until now were out of her comfort zone, she’s provided millions of listeners with introductions to new sounds and, hopefully, to a group of smaller artists who represent them. In an age where there is more good music being created than ever it’s nice to see one of the industries dominant forces branching out and experimenting with those styles. I love it! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2016 is going to be a really really good year.