January 28, 2016


Rihanna's 'ANTI' Album: Track-by-Track Review

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for WESTBURY ROAD ENTERTAINMENT LLC
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for WESTBURY ROAD ENTERTAINMENT LLC

Thanks to a momentary leak, fans got an unexpected preview of Rihanna's long-awaited ANTI album on Wednesday (Jan. 27). Now, that preview has turned into a full-fledged release, as the album is now available on Tidal.

We've given it a listen and now we have your track-by-track review of the Rih's 13 new songs. Of course, the superstar's latest includes the kind of bangers that she does best, but the LP also sees her going more experimental and more stripped-back than we've ever heard from the singer.

1. "Consideration" (feat. SZA): The glitchy, dub-inspired track clocks in at just 2:43, and is probably more of ANTI's intro track than a proper pop song. Rih jumps from powerful, low notes to head-voice notes, and blends her voice with SZA, the underrated R&B songstress under Top Dawg Entertainment (home to Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q). It sets the mood that we're going to hear something fresh from RiRi. -Jeff Benjamin

2. "James Joint": "I’d rather be smoking weed," is the first thing out of Rih’s mouth, so there’s not really a question what this song is about. We actually heard "James Joint" last April when Rihanna posted it on her website in honor of 4/20. Coming in at just 1:14, it's actually more of an interlude, but we wish it were a full song. The production is made of layered synths that sound like the simple-yet-whimsical MIDI music from old-school video games. When it’s (too quickly) over, we just want it to keep going! -Mark Sundstrom

3. "Kiss It Better": We got a short preview of this track way back in December 2014, when Rihanna posted a clip while working on the song in the studio. We knew from that brief taste we’d love this song, and we were right. Between a mesmerizing electric guitar riff and a chanting hook, it’s Rihanna’s 21st century version of an ‘80s- or ‘90s-pop power ballad. Rihanna hauntingly asks over and over,  "What are you willing to do? / Oh, tell me what you’re willing to do." -MS

4. "Work" (feat. Drake): Following the sweeping movements of her pre-album singles, "Work" is more low-key but no less startling, with Rih pleading to save a broken love. Drake slides in with the assist, but this is the main artist's show. Click here to read a more extensive breakdown of the lead single. -Jason Lipshutz

5. "Desperado": Sinister drums and a stuttering delivery mark this woozy head trip, with Rihanna swaying between the decision to stay and the impulse to leave. It never explodes, but "Desperado" sports a pretty solid simmer. -JL

6. "Woo": Club-goers looking for the next great Rihanna jam: Welcome to "Woo." The track is certainly more bizarre than any of Rih's early party hits, but it's hard not bounce your shoulders to that snap-crackle beat. -JL

7. "Needed Me": A dark, DJ Mustard-helmed cut with trippy, trappy production. Rihanna talks about a lover who obsessively lusts after her: "Didn't they tell you I'm a savage? / Fuck it, white horse and a carriage / Bet you never could imagine." -JB

8. "Yeah, I Said It": This midtempo track is straight-up hypnotic. Rih starts out singing in an almost whispery lower tone, but later sings back-and-forth between the deeper voice and a higher-pitched voice. Sparse keys play in the distance as Rihanna asserts, "We don’t need a title," and echoes "Man, fuck a title" throughout the song. There is a sensual, intimate quality to the song and the way Rih sings, as she assures a lover that there’s no need to label their relationship. -MS

9. "Same Ol' Mistakes": A dreamy mix of synth and drowned-out coos mark this surprising Tame Impala cover. At times, Rih is barely audible over the unforgiving, pulsating synthesizers. Tiptoeing into St. Lucia-esque territory, "Same Ol' Mistakes" would make even the most indie of Pitchfork readers smile; and that's probably because it's a reinterpretation of Tame Impala's "New Person Same Old Mistakes." -JB

10. "Never Ending": An acoustic guitar-led ballad with relaxing harmonies backing Rihanna's raw vocals detailing a long-lost lover: "A drug and a drink / A lost connection / Oh come back to me / So I can feel alive / Again." And a keen ear can spot the same melody of Dido's "Thank You" in here; she's credited as a co-writer on the track. -JB

11. "Love On the Brain": An entrancing doo-wop track with a rock edge, "Love on the Brain" is almost startlingly traditional on an album full of experiments. The syncopated strings aim for the heart, while Rihanna's aching cries ("I'm tired of being played like a violin") resonate. -JL

12. "Higher": After opening with gorgeous violins, Rih sounds as if she's been hitting the bottle a little too much with a raw and raspy call out to a lover: "I know I could be more creative and come up with poetic lines," she nearly screams, "You take me higher! Higher than I've been ever been, babe / Just come over, let's pour a drink, babe / I hope I ain't calling you too late." -JB

13. "Close to You": No, this isn’t a cover of the classic Carpenters song, but "Close to You" definitely is a perfect pop ballad. This song is basically ANTI's "Stay" (Rih’s 2013 hit piano ballad with Mikky Ekko): we can easily imagine belting this out at karaoke ASAP, and still doing so five years from now. Rihanna's found a way to hop from turn-up jams to sexy midtempo bops to piano power ballads like this without losing credibility. She really sells it, using her unique voice to capture a feeling of vulnerability for a gorgeous album closer. -MS