So much talk has preceded Rihanna’s eighth album that it’s left, now it’s finally here, with a lot of walk to walk. Opener ‘Consideration’ delivers from the off, with Rihanna joined by young female R&B singer SZA as she outlines her worth as artist and business asset: “let me cover your shit in glitter, I can make it gold”. Pugnacious but playful, she sets out the new agenda: “Got to do things my own way, darling”. And the message is clear: she’s excelled at being a pro, but now is her time to be an Anti.
And she’s doing it in a new way. The ‘good girl gone bad’ was a hoary old cliche before Rihanna ever came to it, and there’s far less of the try-hard rent-a-rebel here; when she sings “Didn’t they tell you I was a savage / Fuck your white horse and a carriage” on the dark and dangerous trip-hoppy groove of ‘Needed Me’, it’s a chilly, mature Rihanna that speaks, not the nudge-nudge romper of ‘S&M’. The warning of “Don’t get it twisted” also echoes ‘Flawless’ from Beyonce’s self-titled 2012 album, already a hard comparison not to draw. Although Rihanna’s take-me-seriously-as-an-artist record isn’t as decisive a surprise strike as that, it strikes a telling blow with its waywardness.
Being defiantly bangerless apart from the weird robot-romping Drake collab ‘Work’, with its addictively slurred vocals, is a statement in itself, and the rest of ‘Anti’ roams free, comfortable enough to leave out big recent singles, to let momentum drop deliciously on ‘Yeah I Said It’’s slow, stoned stretch and her Tame Impala cover ‘Same Old Mistakes’, and to jump around stylistically. There’s many new sides on show here, from the high-drama Princeisms of ‘Kiss It Better’ and the swaggering groove of ‘Desperado’, borrowing the moody backing vocals of Banks’ ‘Waiting Game’, to the brutal lurch of ‘Woo’, and her powerhouse vocal performance on the lush doowop of ‘Love on the Brain’, in which she appears to reference the Chris Brown incident to unsettling effect: “It beats me black and blue but it fucks me so good / And I can’t get enough”.
‘Anti’ is the sort of album that, if you keep listening, will shift favourite tracks and keep revealing new charms. It’s not quite the revelatory departure we might have hoped for, and has the rich but unfocused feel of something worked on perhaps too long with obsessive fervour, but it’s also subtle and interesting; an intriguing soundtrack to an era of change.