WESTBURY ROAD/ROC NATION
Rihanna giving an album away is like Mark Zuckerberg patting himself on the back for not taking a salary. But all those millions aside, as a spectacularly massive artist, the Barbadian does have an inimitable way of rallying seemingly oppositional audiences to come together by spinning her records and making it worth their while.
There’s a mission for musical cred here on her highly anticipated eighth album Anti. RiRi (a sobriquet only brought up here only to remind of its playfulness) wants to fuck shit up like Janelle Monáe—all the better to perhaps solidify a more substantive legacy—and this “surprise” LP is a big step in the right direction.
Anti’s opening track “Consideration” eschews all those wedding-friendly female pop platitudes for dark, dubby trip-hop, and earnestly slouches towards the philosophical: “When I look outside my window / I get no peace of mind,” she unloads. The rasta-izing of the vocal performance only adds to the emotional track’s charm.
And Ri goes on to bring on the phreak: the goofily titled “Woo” is an intriguing mess of weird, repetitive industrial noise possibly even worthy of Cabaret Voltaire. And the Depeche-style synth-pop of “Work” is fabulously euro-tastic—only temporarily tainted by a dull, phoned-in guest performance by Drake.
Better still, “Desperado” is feverishly foxy and sexy, while “Same Ol’ Mistakes” (a faithful cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”) pulls off big, sonic sweeps not generally found on hotly anticipated pop records. And it sounds like somebody’s been listening to fka Twigs. The disjointed jazz of “James Joint” startlingly and unexpectedly fades out after just a minute. (Take that, standardized 3:09 R&B song!)
And exhibiting a desire to move beyond the lyrical rubber stamping of the genre, a steamy and fiery performance on “Higher” is elevated by her tender confession, “I know I could be more creative / And come up with poetic lines.” Get deeper, girl—we’re ready for it.
Considering the tedious, prosaic standardization of contemporary R&B, you have to tip your hat (or bedazzled headphones) to this genuine effort to shatter all those dullest of dull pop clichés.