Rihanna, Anti, album review: 'Bouncy dancehall meets blissed-out stoner vibes'

Rihanna at her most self-assuredly brilliant

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The Independent Culture

Oh Rihanna, it was so worth the wait. Even after those endless fumblings with virtual rooms on Samsung devices that we all hoped would lead us to the inner workings of your soul but actually led us to nowhere. 

Even after some hapless intern allegedly bodged the Tidal release and third-rate rips appeared online. Even after I woke on Wednesday morning to find you had sent an unlock code to your album that I then could only access on my Samsung phone and had to reset several passwords in order to download the appropriate software. It was so worth it for you and your sweet, sweet voice.  

Rihanna’s don’t give a f**k attitude pervades Anti in the best possible way. She’s offered bouncy, relaxed Dancehall tracks that suit her natural Barbadian rhythm down to a T like the surefire Drake collaboration “Work” released earlier this week, (she’s had a No1 with him before with “What’s My Name?”, so it’s a safe bet to collaborate again, and boy does it work), but what’s exciting is she’s tested her own limits. She’s had a stab at an Amy Winehouse-inspired number (“Higher”) and even a Tame Impala cover (“Same ‘Ol Mistakes”). 

This album shows Rihanna hitting back at anyone who ever said her voice could only do certain things and showing them she can do anything she wants to. Such attitude; no apologies. That same self-assurance is shown in what she chose to leave out of the album as much as what she left in: Kanye had already bragged that he was executive producing Anti at the 2015 Grammys but he’s nowhere to be seen on the album. 

Rhi Rhi also chose not to include hits written for her by Sia that Sia herself has since claimed back for her own album and she also chose not to include any of last year’s singles, including “Bitch Better Have My Money” which fared very well, despite criticisms of the accompanying video. The other early singles: “FourFiveSeconds” and “American Oxygen” didn’t make the cut either, but they wouldn’t have worked here, especially not “American Oxygen” which was generally regarded as a dud. 

The cover art for Rihanna's new album Anti

There’s a really chilled out vibe to the album, no EDM, no massive club tracks, that’s not that you couldn’t dance along happily to the Dancehall grooves of “Work”, but when you listen to the album you picture Rhianna’s Instagram feed; her on the beach, smoking weed with her girlfriends, not grinding in a club.

So to the music. Album opener “Consideration” a collaboration with SZA, who features prominently, has a lo fi bass beat and Dancehall riddims. Picture driving in a car, slowly, with the roof down, there’s a haze of perfumed smoke in the air. The song sets out her agenda for the album; doing it her own way with surprising lyrics and introducing a relaxed stoner vibe. 

There’s something of Lana Del Rey’s blissed out beach music to it, but without such a disaffected edge. Rih-Rih is more purposeful than that. There’s emotional depth her as well as weird and witty asides, like “Let me cover your shit in glitter I can make it gold”. “Yeah I Said It” is a late-night sexy slow jam, with the arresting line “I want you to homicide it” surely a double meaning, which I’m still mulling over. “James Joint” continues the random musings on drugs and drinking, with jazz piano and befuddled, sexy vocals. It’s not the hottest track on the album but it provides a good bridge between the Dance Hall bluster and the slow, slow grooves yet to come.

”Higher” with talk of  whisky, ashtrays, breakups and make ups by 21-year-old artist Bibi Bourelly, who is reported as having written it in just 20 minutes,  borders on corny penmanship, and she sings it with the sort strained longing you might expect from X-Factor — and maybe she’s planning on using it for her next guest appearance on the show, but it’s short — just under 2 minutes, which makes you recognise it as an experiment, and it shows off Rihanna’s vocals in a way we’ve not heard before.  

That Tame Impala cover of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”, shortened on Anti to “Same ‘Ol Mistakes” is a very straightforward one. She’s barely changed the sound, adding a couple of hand claps here and there but keeping the same layered shimmering psychedelic effects. She even kept the synth-pop chorus that crashes around you like breaking waves. It’s such a simple cover it could have flopped but Rhi’s version is incredibly bewitching, if anything it’s an improvement on the original. 

The penultimate track,”Love on the Brain” is a typical Fifties-style love song, updated with arpeggiated guitars and moody organ. There’s old school soul, made it exciting by Rihanna’s little “woops” of delight. This is Rihanna at her most strikingly self-assured and it’s wondrous.