Likes: James Joint, Kiss it Better
Dislikes: Woo, Pose, U Needed Me
Overall: Writer's block in album form
Rihanna should've listened to the old saying: “Never count your chickens before they hatch” or rather, don't publicly place such high expectations for yourself. ANTI, Rihanna's 8th album release, was set on so many direct and indirect promises of artistry, soulfulness, a new sound and direction over the last year. I can commend Rihanna or any pop singer for deciding to put a little more time and effort into a project for the sake of artistry and quality; however, after listening, I felt short-changed. *Channels 3LW* I'm getting a little tired of Rih's broken promithes, promithes. Was the album “different” for her? Kind of, not really. Was it artistic? It doesn't hold a candle to Rated R. I won't acknowledge any claims of soulfulness, because...you already know the answer to that inquiry.
ANTI's positive attribute is that it's extremely cohesive. The production on each song is dark and the lyrics all come from a similar vantage point: a strong, sometimes feeble woman in or out of a rugged, abusive relationship. The vocal showcase is pretty solid as well. We hear Rihanna's highs and lows, and various textures, with occasional harmonic layering. Even auto-tune is less utilized as a sound effect. Now, here comes the big “but”...nothing about this record is moving, interesting or exciting. It's like a calm lake: there's a unified and definitive body, but nothing's really happening. Starting with production, I'll just say it: it was cheap. High-end engineers notwithstanding, the effects and equalizer leveling were all over the place. Certain songs (ex. “Higher” and “Woo”) peaked in volume at various times and seemed unfinished. There was no dynamic contrast or musicality, trading in instruments for random noises and nonsensical synth chords, solely depending on the thumping sub-bass to fill in gaps or distract from the lack. Worse, there were no bridges or climaxes, aside from the only cover on the album, Tame Impala's “Same Ol' Mistakes." Tracks seemed to be comprised of 2 repetitive loops; 1 for the verse and chorus each. Those that showed potential only proved to be makeshift interludes, lasting roughly a minute or two (“James Joint,” “Yeah I Said It,”“Higher”). Most didn't have the enticing "oomph" that Rihanna's material usually has at bare minimum, regardless of content value. “Kiss It Better” was a standout, giving the feel of an 80's-early 90s rock-ballad that would have a stadium filled with lighters by its chorus. Sadly, it's the only song that contains an attainable melody, much less achieves the “timeless” vibe Rihanna claimed she was aiming for. “Woo” played like a 3 year old banging on a piano to a pseudo-trap beat, while the amateur demo-like “Work” left much to be desired with a lot of empty space between the beat and Rihanna's vocals. Conversely, the vocal production was nearly flawless.
Rihanna is heralded for her distinct tone more so than technique, power or pitch perfection. This hasn't changed, as she generally stuck to her signature talk-singy nature and overshadowed sultry moments with
throaty performances. Her Christina Aguilera-like screaming on “Higher” is cringe worthy and will probably never be performed live successfully. The cut should've been extended and then handed to Jazmine Sullivan, Brandy or even Aguilera herself. Nonetheless, Rihanna still has the ability to emote with believability and bring whatever she's singing to life. The helplessness she conveys in “Close To You” will almost make you forget about the pot-hole infested road you took to get to the end of the standard edition. Though I believed her, I didn't understand her for most of the record. Taking a page from Ariana Grande's diction book, phrases were mumbled or under-enunciated. To fully follow where she's trying to go, lyrics will have to be nearby.