Album review: Rihanna - Anti

Album review: Rihanna - Anti | Random J Pop

Ever since Good Girl Gone Bad, a type of precedent was set with a Rihanna album. We knew we were going to get hit singles which were perfectly primed for radio. Even if the albums themselves were a little shaky and inconsistent, we’d get those hit singles regardless. Then her eighth studio album Anti came along.

Anti is a deviation from all of Rihanna’s previous albums on the fact that it’s light on really obvious single choices. Regardless of how you may have felt about a Rihanna album in the past, you could always at least pick out 4 songs from it which would make really good singles. Anti? Gurl, good luck. But where-as the focus with Rihanna's previous albums was about the singles, Anti is her first which feels like it wants to be taken as an album, and not a sum of its parts.

Album review: Rihanna - Anti | Random J Pop

Initially it’s difficult to really know what Rihanna’s approach with this album was. But that was the point. The title is the answer. She’s doing the opposite of what people expected, and what people may have wanted from her at that point in her career. Anti was a complete zag for an artist who always zigged with her albums. But whilst Anti may not have been what people expected as a whole, it’s also not a complete surprise. Rihanna laid the breadcrumbs on Unapologetic and Talk That Talk to let us know that an album like Anti could potentially be where Rihanna ended up. And Unapologetic, for as much of a mess as it was, really showed that Rihanna was the type of person who does what she likes in a moment. So of course she’d say ‘Fuck the pop shit’ and ‘Fuck a Stargate single’. We were always gonna get an album like Anti.

Every album Rihanna had put out from Rated R onwards felt like it was the consequence of something. Rated R was Rihanna showing that she’s not gonna be a victim, and she is gonna be a bitch who is not to be messed with. But the problem was that Rihanna’s voice and demeanour didn’t match the image and the music. It also only had one mega smash single, which was “Rude Boy”, a song which stood out like hell on the album and was a widely considered favourite. So her label said, ‘Cool! We’re taking that “Rude Boy” vibe and making a whole album out of it’, which is why we got Loud. Then with Talk That Talk it was like a case of the label saying ‘We still want pop’, but ‘Rihanna saying ‘I want something edgy’ so we ended up with a raggedy hybrid of Rated R and Loud. Then with Unapologetic it was like somebody said ‘So, we want Good Girl Gone Bad, Rated R, Loud and Talk That Talk all in one album’, with Rihanna still wanting to take things in a different direction, and it just wound up a complete mess. Anti isn’t trying to recapture any moment from any previous album. In many ways it feels like a reset.

Anti feels like it jumps around a lot, and a first listen may have you think ‘What even is this?’. But Anti seems far more all over the place than it actually is. Every song feels like it’s on the same checkerboard, and as though they are cut from the same cloth. The sequencing makes this album feel a lot more of a shambles than it is. There was zero consideration for the order of songs on this album whatsoever, and it’s a shame. Because some songs come off worse or get glossed over largely because of it.

Album review: Rihanna - Anti | Random J Pop

Anti fared well on its release, despite what was one of the messiest promos and rollouts I think I’ve seen for an album. But I do wonder if Anti would have fared differently if released now, at a time when streaming is a complete norm, and attention spans seem to be at their shortest when it comes to music and consumption of pretty much anything online. Anti being as scattered as it is, with such short songs, feels like an album for a moment in music such as now. It’s probably why the album charted for as long as it did, and why it continues to be an album that people play and discover even now - more than for the reason that people are starved for a new Rihanna album. But the sound of Anti as a whole feels more curated for now than it did in 2013, when mumble singing and rapping was nowhere near as popular as it is now. In a few short years, mumble R&B and mumble rap has pretty much become a genre unto itself, with mumble queen SZA, Travis Scott and Migos all being insanely popular. Even pop acts are catching onto it and doing their own versions of it, just listen to some of Charli XCX’s material from when she started working with PC Music.

Anti is another instance of Rihanna being ahead of a trend, and she and her team knowing who to tap at a given moment. It’s absolutely no coincidence that SZA and Travis Scott both have songwriting and production credits on this album for “Consideration” and “Woo” respectively, and that they’re huge stars now. This album also features the songwriting talents of The Weeknd, just as he was popping off. And there’s even a cover of a Tame Impala song, an act who was always known, but having Rihanna cover one of his songs undoubtedly put a fair amount of people onto him - especially considering that “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is an album highlight for so many.

Whilst it’s easy to dismiss Anti as being a mess and a little unfocused, it really does show that Rihanna has a very hyper specific taste level, and that even in moments where the plan isn’t clear, there is still a focus and an intention. She may not have always had as much control over some of her previous albums, but she definitely learned a few lessons and adopted them along the way to put Anti together. And one thing which has certainly carried over from her previous albums is amassing an impressive roster of talent to write and produce. Do not let the lack of big obvious singles or the lack of Stargate, Dr. Puke and Calvin Harris get anything twisted. The talent on this album is stacked. SZA, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, James Fauntleroy, The-Dream, PartyNextDoor, Starrah, Hit-Boy, Jeff Bhasker, Boi-1da, Noah "40" Shebib, Timbaland, No I.D, Shea Taylor, Brian Kennedy, and an up and coming Bibi Bourelly. The only other female artist who could amass talent like this for one album is Beyoncé.

Album review: Rihanna - Anti | Random J Pop

Anti is an album about making a statement, and it does so in ways that I think Rihanna’s previous albums didn’t. They were fun, they had some cool songs, and each album spawned singles which were far more responsible for pop trends and shifts in music than most care to admit. But Anti is about stepping away from that. It’s about Rihanna trying to cultivate something which feels a lot more honest to her.

As much as I value the honesty in this album, there is a lack of polish about it, which is something that I’m sure will be subjective. Sometimes the roughness around the edges is fine. I can imagine that it felt liberating for Rihanna to not feel that she has to chase a song which is so prim, proper and perfect for radio. Other times I feel that it prevents songs, which are already really good songs, from being the best that they could be. Some songs feel like they’re cut short, or were straight up unfinished. “Consideration” is quite literally an album intro, clocking in at just under 3 minutes and just ending. “Higher” has Rihanna giving a vocal performance which hurts my throat just listening to it. But the main offense this song causes isn’t Rihanna’s dry throat vocals in all of the wrong keys, but how the song is like a preview. “James’ Joint” is the only short song on this album which feels like it ends when it should and was intended to just be a short lil’ interlude. The others genuinely sound like unfinished songs. And even some of the songs which are of your average song sound incomplete. “Kiss It Better” is a great song, but it feels overly repetitive, and could have done with an additional verse or a middle-8 with a killer electric guitar solo. “Pose” is a really fun song, but again, it feels like it’s cut short. Like it’s an unfinished demo. "Yeah, I Said It" is a fuck record, but its 2 minutes and 13 seconds long, when it shoulda been 5. Who is fucking in 2 minutes!? Not every song has to be 4 minutes long and take me on some magic carpet ride, but regardless of whether a song is 1 and half minutes long or 4, it should feel complete, like it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Rihanna really said ‘Fuck it, I’m done’ on half of these songs.

Then there’s Rihanna vocals. They’re all over the place. Sometimes she sounds great. Sometimes she sounds awful. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m even listening to. The saving grace is that Rihanna’s energy at the very least always matches the song. She sells every song on this album, even when she’s sounding like a piece of shit. The vocals on “Higher” are TERRIBLE. But she still has me waving my handkerchief in the air with my good Sunday hat on. It really is a testament to the conviction that Rihanna is able to sell when she approaches music, which isn’t something that she’s always had. Her lack of conviction and giving herself to her music completely is what made Rated R such a lacklustre album for me, because Rihanna didn’t really give a lot of those songs what they needed. Where-as now, I feel like she could do songs like “Hard”, “Rockstar 101” and “G4L” a far greater justice.

Album review: Rihanna - Anti | Random J Pop

Anti might just be one of Rihanna’s best albums. Not only is it a collection of good songs (albeit some incomplete), but they all form a solid body of work in ways that Unapologetic and Talk That Talk didn’t. And you can feel that Rihanna’s heart is in these songs, in a way it wasn’t for the whole of Loud.

Anti is one album in Rihanna’s discography which I feel accurately captures her as she is, and not what other people want her to be. For how off the sequencing of the songs on Anti are, the narrative of it is still clear, as is what Rihanna wanted to achieve with this album, which is freedom from expectation. And what Anti also shows is that Rihanna could pivot right back to pop if she felt like it, or do something different. What will make the album isn’t so much the sound, but the energy and the vision she brings to it. Rihanna was always seen as a fearless artist, but I never really saw it in anything she’d released before. But in Anti, I see it. The bottom line with Anti is that Rihanna gon’ do what the fuck she likes, and everybody gon’ have to deal with it.


■ Consideration
■ James Joint 🔥
■ Kiss It Better 🔥
■ Work
■ Woo 🔥
■ Same Ol' Mistakes 🏆
■ Pose 🔥
■ Sex with Me