After releasing almost an album a year for eight years, the three year wait between Unapologetic and Anti seems almost absurd. Rihanna’s been teasing ANTI for the better part of this period—kicking the campaign into overdrive early in 2015 with the release of FourFiveSeconds—but between constant delays and the following singles stalling on the charts, no one was quite sure what to expect. With the eventual surprise free release being thrust upon fans, it was in a prime position to fail rather than succeed.
Thankfully, ANTI contains some of the best material Rihanna has ever recorded. While FourFiveSeconds, American Oxygen and Bitch Better Have My Money were all scrapped from the album, the remaining songs make up for their absence. Rather than following any of the previous singles in style, it’s easier to compare it to the latest single Work, whose alternative R&B sound sets the tone for the album, albeit in a more mainstream manner; the minimal beat and Rihanna’s slurred mixture of singing and rapping is a strange choice for the radio, but admittedly the best choice on a rather unconventional album. Early songs often dabble in different levels of industrial and trap elements, never leaning too close to one side but maintaining a perfect balance.
The second half, however, takes the album in another direction. Same Ol’ Mistakes, a cover of Tame Impala’s New Person, Same Old Mistakes, mixes the alternative R&B sound of the album with Tame Impala’s own sound, which comes as a sparkling, if not sombre break in the album’s style. Following this, though, the album enters unexpected older territory; The 50s pop balladry of Love On The Brain is unprecedented, but Rihanna pulls it off splendidly and manages to make it fit in the context of the album. The retro jazz of Higher hits a similar note, and Rihanna’s breaking vocals suit the fleeting track perfectly. Mixing these tracks with ballads makes ANTI end on a very different note than it started—one that’s decidedly less commercial than Rihanna has ever tackled—but it works in context.
There’s barely a single moment that ANTI falls flat. Higher and the similarly short but trippy James Joint may stand out as negatives because of their small stature, they still stand as fantastic songs and the album remains strong. The modern R&B of Yeah, I Said It and Work somehow manages to shift smoothly into the throwback style of Love On The Brain and Higher, with everything working together successfully to show a more mature and developed side of Rihanna stylistically. Not all fans will be happy with ANTI, given its disruptive and unusual style, but if you can look past that and appreciate the album for what it is, you’ll find plenty to enjoy.