Rihanna has been teasing her new album, Anti, for the past couple of months, built around buzz singles “BBHMM” and “FourFiveSeconds.” Yet it’s been so long since those songs were released that they’ve been left off Anti, which found it’s way onto Tidal last night as a surprise, exclusive release. It’s been more than three years since her last full-length, 2012’s Unapologetic, which was propelled by the Sia-penned single “Diamonds.” RiRi apparently still feels that sense of remorselessness, crashing Sia’s This Is Acting release date this week with this impromptu unveiling.
That said, there’s something disingenuous about records from artists like Rihanna who don’t write or produce their own music, instead opting just to show up and sing. It’s a bit strange when she shares vocals with another woman on the album’s opening track, when Kendrick Lamar/TDE affiliate SZA ghostwrites and co-stars on “Consideration.” The same can be said for the Drake-featuring “Work,” which finds Rihanna adopting his mumbled delivery style, and co-opting it once again on the track that follows, “Desperado.”
Meanwhile, The-Dream-penned, Hit Boy-produced “Woo” sounds one reference track away from being a Kanye West Waves outtake. The most surprising moment here is her almost identical cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” Again there’s that disingenuous feeling; did she cover the song because she thought it was dope, or because the Aussies were the indie darlings of 2015?
Rihanna’s got range and isn’t afraid to use it, more or less adapting to whatever the tracks demand. But her brightest moments are cut too short, as on two James Fauntleroy-written cuts, “Higher” and “James Joint,” which last barely two minutes. She shows off her natural talent on both songs, but they’re also among the many spots where tries to be too edgy with profane lyrics. The worst case comes on “Kiss It Better,” in which she irresponsibly sings, “We argue, you yell, ‘Would you take me back?’/Who cares when it feels like crack?” Crack though, Rihanna?