Meanwhile, in another part of the pop stratosphere, RiRi season has begun. The eighth album from Rihanna, ANTI, arrived quietly in late January. There was more written about the nauseating album cover with a Chloe Mitchell poem printed in braille. The music’s pretty good, too.

ANTI opens with “Consideration,” a loose neck-swiveler that sets the tone for the album’s first half. It’s nice to hear Rihanna give the assist to SZA, a sister-in-arms and a singer equally deserving to reach the same heights. Their voices move around each other in an uneven orbit. SZA bellowing beautifully bent notes. Rihanna soaring in an upward swing.

A soft muted organ clambers on “James Joint,” a loosie before things get serious. “Kiss It Better” chisels through the speakers. I can picture Rihanna walking down a black staircase in black heels and black skirt to the opening. Fireworks sparkle in the background as stunted Eighties rock ballad lead guitar burrows into your head. Rihanna sings about a relationship where the bad gets swept under the bed. Emotion pumps from her voice no how many times it’s processed and layered.

The first single, “Work,” has made its way across the oceans with two different videos and a saucy performance on the BRIT Awards. Love the song. Though, I barely know what Rihanna’s singing, or if she’s singing anything in any language. Not sure, but it gets catchier as time goes on. It’s one of her best singles. Drake is usually good for a guest verse and here he gives the necessary phrases. “Work” is their third single together following “Take Care” and “What’s My Name?”

“Woo” reminds me of the Bjork song “Pluto” off Homogenic. Rihanna sings against a coarse electronic tremble that does not let up the entire song. I’d love to hear her move more in this direction. Maybe let Trent Reznor put her voice through the greater. Then, just when you think it can’t any more vicious, Rihanna screams, “I don’t mean to really luh you / I don’t mean to really care about you no more.”

Next, on “Needed Me,” she gets cold with an ex-lover over a simple beat and an expanding wah-wah. When Rihanna sing, it’s in a downward spiral. “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? / fuck your white horse and your carriage.” Somewhere an ex is crying in his beer in a dark bar. “Yeah, I Said It” resets the tone. The breath of Rihanna’s vocals cloud both speakers in daydream tripping fantasy.

Then comes the curveball: a painfully straight-forward version of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” off 2015’s Currents. Retitled here as, “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” this version is so similar I wonder if Rihanna didn’t just kareoke over the instrumental version of the original. The band gets production credits, so who knows. The song’s decent enough so, fine, but somehow, it’s even longer than the original.

Coupled with the next song, “Never Ending,” the album begins to drag a little. The final few songs are big syrupy ballads. Her vocals soar to such great, soul-baring heights and while, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not my mug of wine.

ANTI is an almost-classic from Rihanna. From song-to-song it dips and crashes through many different styles, some all her own, some borrowed. It’s been billed as a break from form for the Barbadian singer and it mostly is, but the second half of the album plays it safe. I long for her powerful voice to find its way into the very outer extensions of where R&B can go. But, I’ll keep listening until then.


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