Rihanna gets personal in ‘Anti’
There’s something about bad boys that attracts women who think they can change them—and Rihanna, the only artist to sell more than 100 million singles digitally, has a lot to say about this in her long-awaited eighth album, “Anti.”
“Work,” the collection’s raga-fueled first single set to tropical house music, examines a couple’s conflicting views about love and intimacy.
In it, RiRi sings about inexplicably wanting to take the next step with her less-than-ideal lover, while hip-hop hotshot Drake counterpoints his struggle to make a commitment with his urgent rapping.
The recurring theme suggested in “Work” percolates even more in the Bill Kenny-channeling doo-wop number, “Love on the Brain,” which plays out like an answer to “Heart Ain’t a Brain” by Rihanna’s controversial ex beau, Chris Brown.
As the songstress recalls what she went through in the course of their tumultuous love story, she describes the cyclical violence that characterizes abusive relationships: “It beats me black and blue, but it f***s me so good / I can’t get enough/ Must be love on the brain / And it keeps cursing my name!”
Her brooding thoughts are a snug fit for the foggy, crepuscular R&B sound championed by the seminal tunes of The Weeknd.
In “Desperado,” she mulls over the sacrifices she’s willing to make to keep her troubled man happy.
Rihanna also sings about a past lover and the things that set true love apart from misplaced lust in the noirishly atonal “Woo,” this time sung with Travis Scott, reportedly her current squeeze.
The singer is more assertive with her music than with matters of the heart (“Kiss It Better,” “Yeah, I Said It,” “Higher,” which she wrote while she was reportedly inebriated)—as her fluttery, after-the-storm mood piece, “Needed Me,” demonstrates: “You needed me to feel a little more—and give a little less/ (I) know you hate to confess/ But, baby, don’t get it twisted!”
The lineup isn’t as dance-heavy as Rihanna’s past endeavors, however. It features intimate ditties with interrelated themes—but, what makes it less cohesive is the arrangements’ tendency to repeat themselves.
Take “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” her cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”—what’s the point of reviving a song that, while proficiently rendered, sounds almost identical to the version it inspired?
However, Rihanna’s decisiveness and idiosyncratic musicality are on full display in her tantalizing collaboration with Sza, “Consideration”—about her need for artistic growth: “I’ve got to do things my way/ You should just let me/ Will you ever respect me? No/ Why will you never let me grow?”
Our top choices include the short but jazzily saccharine interlude, “James Joint,” the folksy and wistful “Never Ending” (about her fear of falling in love again) and “Close to You.”
The latter is a moving, piano-driven ballad about what happens when love begins to fade away: “Nothing but a tear, that’s all for breakfast/ Watching you pretend you’re unaffected/ I love in your direction/ Hoping that the message goes—somewhere close to you!”