If you tease it, they will come. After dropping the single “Bitch Better Have my Money” on March 25, 2015, speculation over the release date of Rihanna’s highly-anticipated eighth release ANTI grew, but unfortunately kept fading into more and more uncertainty after its multiple delays. By some kind of blunder, or some kind of music miracle — depending on which side you’re on — Jay Z’s music streaming site TIDAL accidentally dropped the album prematurely, only to have the album deleted and then put back online as a “present” to RiRi’s fans. It’s still a mystery if this was the plan all along or if the early drop was truly an error, but either way, the Barbadian pop star’s first album since 2012’s Unapologetic has finally arrived.
The album begins with the head-bobbing, bass-thumping beat of “Consideration.” A simple yet strong launch into the album, the track possesses a dark synth that highlights its catchy melody, making it almost sing-songy when Solana Rowe, better known as SZA, steps into the track. The post-chorus lyrics, provided by the singer-songwriter, set a melancholy mood to the piece, singing, “When I look outside my window, I can’t get no peace of mind.” RiRi follows up with, “Darling would you mind giving my reflection a break from the pain it’s feeling now?” With a song that consists of lyrics that long for happiness, freedom and clarity, is Rihanna giving the listeners an insight to the tones and themes of the rest of the album?
Following “Consideration” is the interlude “James Joint,” where RiRi’s lyrics about her love for smoking marijuana appears to trump anything she and her metaphorical lover are doing. It’s a dreamy little tune that transitions into “Kiss it Better,” a track that begins with a power ballad-esque guitar riff and carries out like an 80s-era prom song. The slow songs definitely don’t stop here; in fact, they seem to outnumber the more upbeat and harder-hitting tracks. Later in the album are “Yeah, I Said It,” “Love On The Brain” with a romantic guitar riff that floats throughout, the belted lyrics of “Higher,” and the piano-driven “Close To You.” While beautifully done, the songs don’t make a lasting impact.
To contrast the slower, softer tracks are “Work” featuring Drake, “Desperado” and “Woo,” which all feature dark tones and beats that evoke memories of hits such as “Rehab” and “Disturbia” that ushered in her Good Girl Gone Bad era. Rihanna’s always been talented at loading albums with both club bangers and heart-felt songs, and ANTI is no different. However, it’ll be interesting to see if any of these tracks besides “Work,” can grow as radio hits, which was the most-heard song in its first day, January 27, across more than 1,200 stations according to Billboard.
Something completely unexpected yet awesome to see at the same time is the cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Mistakes,” titled as “Same Ol’ Mistakes” on the album. The cover feels more like Kevin Parker’s voice was simply replaced with Rihanna’s and nothing new was created, but having a psychedelic track sandwiched in between slow jams is an interesting mix.
Although the days of Rihanna being seen as the cheery, poppy, dancehall queen are long gone, RiRi has definitely established herself as a distinct pop force with a unique sound. While ANTI may have gotten one more star with more upbeat tracks, expect to see even more edgy music videos come out, if “Bitch Better Have My Money’s” video is any indication.