With a world tour scheduled to kick off from next month, with 6 dates planned for the UK, including a much-anticipated Wembley Stadium show in June, does Rihanna’s 8th studio album Anti live up to the media fanfare? Sam Bleazard answers the question.
Anti is the eighth album of Barbadian Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty and is released a few weeks short of the singers 28th birthday. Given the hype around it, based on a carefully constructed media campaign, there will have been intrigue about its content and artistic direction.
It opens with “Consideration”, a song with the line “when I look outside my window I can’t get no peace of mind”, and bemoans the fact that she needs to grow, before threatening her latest suitor – “let me cover your sh*t in glitter…”. Those three sentiments sum up both artist and album really succinctly (so if you don’t have time to listen to all of it, this gives you a strong flavour of what’s ahead). It’s very much the territory of the detached, knowing rebel continuing to court controversy as a career choice.
On Kiss it Better she repeatedly asks “tell me what are you willing to do”…and imploring her lover, “Man f*ck your pride, do what you gotta do, keep me up all night”. The problem is that this is quite a long album and after four, five, six, seven tracks – I lost count in the end – it’s the same theme in re-tread.
It feels like the military industrial concept of songwriting, the R&B equivalent of a drone strike. Halfway through the set you can still hear Rihanna berating her partner, asking what they’re doing for her, with each angry question and plea set to chugging, electronic back beats. Perhaps she needs to take some time out, given that her adoring public have been waiting over two years with bated breath for this set it shows a remarkable lack of ideas.
Idiosyncratic R&B has been done a whole lot better than this, in the ’90s by a singer called Res on the album How I Do (who went on to support Mary J. Blige on tour), and by Frank Ocean on Channel Orange. Even Willow Smith has something to offer in this arena currently. As with most things in the 27 year old’s current career, whether it’s semi naked Instagram pictures or provocative videos aimed at outraging society’s moral guardians, this all feels calculated. It’s a shame because Rihanna’s greatest moments have really captured the psyche of a large global audience, Rated R, Loud and Good Girl Gone Bad albums all had considerable spirit about them, featuring songs with different ideas that tapped into, and even captured, the current zeitgeist. Anti is no more than a repeat of the most obvious parts of the Rihanna bad girl persona, but it’s a difficult and uninspiring listen.
The new single “Work” is an example of where the problem lies. Initially it sounds quite catchy in an ear worm kind of way, and once it gets inside your head you’ll find it hard to shift. Featuring Rihanna’s Barbadian inflections, on second listen it just feels too demo-ish for an album, without the humour or hooks of a “Rude Boy”, it lacks real flesh on the bones.
Rihanna is Anti something and she wants us to know it, but a long hard look in the mirror might be coming at some point in the future. Maybe it’s a sign that the pornification approach most effectively wielded by Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and others may now be showing signs that it’s run its course and is on the wane. Time will tell.
We have to wait until the very end of the album for some light and shade with the acoustic led “Never Ending”, but it lacks a great hook which illuminated “Four Five Seconds”, her collaboration with Kanye West and Paul McCartney. Then we get “Love on the Brain” which kicks off in the mode of a Mark Ronson production on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, it’s ok but nothing more than a copy of an existing style.
Higher carries on the briefer moments of introspection, with the artist admitting that “she knows she can be more creative” while drinking a bottle of whisky, but unfortunately after a promising opening it only serves to highlight the limitations of her vocal chords which are audibly straining towards the end.
She’s already made millions from advance sales of this album, and the world tour planned for this summer will no doubt sell out, but Anti is a soulless exercise as a collection of songs. Closing track “Sex with Me (is so amazing)” is an irony free zone, and it’s about as sexy as a Monday morning alarm call.
It may be time to throw out the army of songwriters that are routinely employed to crank out hits and album tracks such as these and just sit in a room with some friends and peers to write in a more fun and organic way. I’m a fan of Rihanna, but this is not a high point, musically it feels more like a dead end.