On ‘Anti,’ Rihanna finally slows down and finds her center

Listening to Rihanna’s new album, Anti, it’s obvious there’s no mega-hit — there’s no eletcro-pop gem like “Diamonds,” no “Umbrella”-like anthem.

After her frantic run of albums over several years, Rihanna, paused, tweaked and molded, ripped down and rebuilt Anti. Anti is not a particularly happy or uplifting album either. Rihanna’s emotions shift constantly, from loneliness to lust, vulnerability to indecision.

But there’s still plenty about Anti to love. The depth and darkness she’s uncovered here is the farthest she’s come personally in her music, and it makes for a compelling and captivating album.

Her decision to drop the singles “BBHMM,” “American Oxygen” and “FourFiveSeconds” from Anti was the right one — and whether Anti yields an R&B hit doesn’t seem to concern her right now.

She begins by reclaiming her Barbadian accent on “Consideration,” forgoing her earlier Americanized vocals. “I got to do things my own way darling / “Will you ever let me?” she chants defiantly.

The interlude “James Joint” boils down her love life to smoking weed, making out and not giving a damn about anything else. Although it’s the briefest song, the swirl of soft electro-pop notes is the sexiest on the entire album. Another slow jam, “Kiss It Better,” features an‘80s-era guitar hook that could just as easily be a Prince write-off.

She can play the good girl just as easily as the bad, and it’s her prerogative which character she chooses to embody. She doesn’t need to waste time with emotional baggage on “Needed Me” (“But baby, don’t get it twisted/You was just another n—- on the hit list/Trying to fix your issues with a bad b*tch.”)  Later on the album she plays the vulnerable woman who’s uncertain how to feel when she finds herself in the pangs of new love on the docile acoustic pop of “Never Ending.”

But her best work comes toward the end.

She lets loose on the doo-wop tune “Higher,” accentuating its distorted, wobbly strings, and on its sister tune — the slow, retro 1-2-3 beat of “Love on the Brain” – she’s never been more daring. “I’m tired of being played like a violin,” she says. When her voice is stripped of electronic assets and allowed to become grainy and raw, it shines.

By the time Rihanna closes Anti with a tender piano ballad, it’s clear she’s evolved; you get the sense that she’s come to terms with or is at peace with whatever demons she was fighting. Those annual album drops may now be a thing of the past.

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Filed under Doo Wop, Electro-pop, Pop, Review, Uncategorized

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