It took some time but Bad Girl Riri has finally unleashed her eighth album upon the world.

Not that is was supposed to be out this early.  It appears that a mistake over at TIDAL caused the album to be leaked.  As a result, we presume that the ramp-up to the release has been scrapped in favor of a more rushed promotion.  Of course, Samsung paid Rihanna $25 million for the right to cross-promote, so it’s not like she’ll be hurting for cash.  If anything, we think that the freedom of not having to worry about the bottom line might be part of the reason that they album has been revamped since its early iteration and the reason for ultimate direction.

Many people will attempt to compare this to Beyoncé’s 2013 release, but there is a key difference.  Beyoncé worked with new writer and producers, but the totality of the album was very similar to her past projects, just with an updated sound. It wasn’t out of the realm of what to expect from her. Rihanna seems to have thrown convention out the window in favor of something a lot more experimental (for her).  This could easily alienate a fanbase that isn’t ready for the shift and shows a real risk in its release.  Also, the lack of an accompanying music video for any of the included tracks means that the listener has to form their opinion complete through the sonic experience; a risky move for most artists, but moreso for one like Rihanna who incorporates the visual aspects so much into each release.

Having listened to the album twice in its entirety, I think I get what the ANTi of the title is alluding to; this is not the Rihanna that we have come to know.  This is not a pop album; it’s alt. R&B.  If you came here expecting Bitch, Better Have My Money you will be sorely disappointed (in fact, the first three single were left off the album).  This is more what you would expect from a Tinashe or a younger, more hood Adele.  It has a mature sound, lining up with her desire to do music she can perform in 10 years and not feel silly, and shows a different side of the Barbadian beauty without completely abdicating her core persona.

What is really surprising is that some of the tracks are so vocally different than her previous work that it’s hard to recognize that it’s Rihanna singing.  The song we posted below, Love On The Brain, shows a range we weren’t sure she was capable of.  While she overdoes it on the Higher interlude, the rest of the album has a nice balance of tones, even with the roboticized vocals in some places.  It’s similar to what we’ve seen of her in recent live performances; a lot more power and a lot more confidence.

Production-wise, we feel the Kanye influence on the album.  While it’s not as pronounced as it was on Yeezus, there is clear electronicizing (Not a word? Is now…) on parts of the album.  Depending on your audio setup, this can serve to make sections of songs sound uneven in volume to others.

There is also the part that will likely drive away more of her fanbase than anything, the slowness of it all.  Work is the fastest track on the album, so you can tell these aren’t songs people will be getting on the dancefloor for.  While we don’t have a problem with slow production choices, especially those that are interesting and don’t put you to sleep, we know that a large number of her fans look to Rihanna for bops.  Make no mistake, this is not a turn-up album, this is a personal reflection project.

That leads us to the lyrics; they’re solid.  Each song is expressive of a different aspects of love (for the most part).  The wording is pretty poetic in their scope with some songs having solid metaphors and some being fairly straightforward in their meaning.  These are very few (if any) catchphrase popping lyrics on this one, you really have to listen to get her meaning.

We’ll make the prediction that this album will not do well in the United States.  It’s miles away from what is popular right now (especially from those who are considered to be urban artists), but it has the potential to be a monster overseas.  For our money, we’ve tagged Love On The BrainKiss It BetterDesperado, and Same Ol’ Mistakes as favorites with the recently released Work and Higher being the most skippable tracks of the set.

The free download period on TIDAL is over now, but we have located unfinished purchase pages for deluxe versions of the album on iTunes and Google Play. We’ll post those links when they go live.

Additional Information: The deluxe edition of ANTi is now available for purchase on iTunes.  It includes three additional songs, none of which are the previous singles.  Entitled Goodnight Gotham, Pose, and Sex With Me, two out of three are perfect fit for the rest of the album with only Pose being the outlier and sounding like the Rihanna of old.  We also add Sex With Me to our favorites list as it is bonafide R&B track that Rihanna’s new and improved vocals are a good fit for.

Rating: 4.o


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