On Jan. 29, Rihanna released her eighth studio album, ANTI. Teased to be released earlier in 2015, the album made a surprise exclusive debut on Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service two days before the official release date. Although, it felt like more of an accident compared and considering the increasingly common tactic of surprise releases rendered by other stars. Thanks to Tidal’s exclusive user base and the unexpectedness of the release, ANTI presented a real life answer to the famous tree fall question–it fell in the woods, but nobody was around to hear it.
Interestingly, despite a three-year hiatus from the music scene since the release of her 2012 album Unapologetic, Rihanna’s name has retained a considerable degree of relevance thanks to her involvement in projects of considerable magnitude. She made an appearance on “FourFiveSeconds” in collaboration with Kanye West and Paul McCartney and released the edgy trap-pop anthem “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Disappointingly, though, neither made it onto the track list of ANTI.
As an album, ANTI attempts to present yet another testament to how Rihanna is an anti-establishment pop star that loves to sing about drugs and other contentious topics–a fairly unoriginal message at this stage in her career. It is possible that ANTI draws its name from an effort to be an anti-traditional pop album. This becomes most apparent in the way many of the tracks do not follow the typical verse-chorus formula representative of traditional pop. However, this was executed in a way that is neither progressive nor groundbreaking. Rather, it comes across as lazy.
Of the few enjoyable tracks on the album, most of these are too short to actually absorb, and therefore it’s hard to imagine any of them getting considerable amounts of airtime. “Higher,” which may feature Rihanna’s best vocal performance of her career, is only two minutes long and fades out just as the listener is preparing to hear more. “Consideration,” “James Joint,” and “Yeah, I Said It” are all less-interesting manifestations of the same idea.
Where there could have been hope lingering in her tracks of average length, a majority of them are simply frustrating given Rihanna’s historically proven talent. The album’s big single, “Work,” doesn’t have much of a chorus. Instead, we hear Rihanna continuously repeating the word “work.” In collaboration with her boyfriend Travi$ Scott, “Woo,” is an isolating and irritating offering of random noises–it seems almost as if Rihanna was trying her hand at a Yeezus-like sound. The most accessible song on this record is probably “Never Ending,” though it fares as a fairly bland acoustic track with a chorus that fails to differentiate itself from the rest of the verses.
Thankfully, however, there is a small snippet of ANTI that actually works–the last four songs. “Love On the Brain” and “Higher” both have an old-school Motown gloss to them that work very well with Rihanna’s vocals, but only the former stands as a complete thought. “Higher,” on the other hand, is short enough to be an interlude to the final song on the record.
ANTI is Rihanna’s biggest and latest plea to her fan base to regard her as unique and talented. Sadly, she has only succeeded in introducing unoriginal musical ideas that have been consistently present on the charts during her three-year absence. Upon first listen, the sporadically catchy hooks help you forgive the unorganized and uninteresting aspects of the rest of the record. On repeated listens, however, these aspects become less and less forgivable. “Woo” and “Same Ol' Mistakes” are lackluster copycat tracks that only diminish Rihanna’s credibility and effort. Even the soulful “Love on the Brain” and “Higher” sound average when you realize artists such as Adele and Frank Ocean have already capitalized on the old school jazz and blues melodies.
Although she will probably have no issue remaining a major player in the industry for the next few years, Rihanna and her producers must come to realize that the recycling of contemporary pop and hip-hop ideas does not translate to anti-pop. It instead translates to anti-original–but hopefully it won’t take her another three years to figure that out.