A while ago, there was a report published by Forbes that deemed Nicole Kidman the most overpaid star in Hollywood – that is to say, her returns never came close to matching the investment in her. You could argue the same about Rihanna in pop; not so much in sales (she’ll get those regardless) but very rarely has her brand been able to justify the creativity, manpower and, well, hope invested in her.
Anti, then, reads better as a commercial protest album. This is Rihanna sticking two jewel-encrusted fingers up at commercial expectations. “I’ve got to do things my own way darling, you should just let me… why you never let me grow?” she sings on opener Consideration, taking cues from those confidently striding the offbeat path of R&B which, really, is a trail she perhaps ought to be blazing herself (instead of blazing joints, perhaps).
If that opener recalls the experimental work of Willow Smith‘s recent album, the James Joint interlude could have fit nicely with The Internet. And it doesn’t get much blatant than the Banks-sampling Desperado – not that the title is a comment on the lady herself, but it’s pretty evident that RiRi is hungry to not just run with the new pack, but quite possibly run them over in the process.
There’s no Calvin Harris here – thank Christ – and no Minaj-esque indulgence in a Starships. It’s relentlessly dark, smoky electronic R&B with fascinating production (Needed Me is hypnotically intricate) that sits perfectly with everything bloggers would salivate over. This is Rihanna’s BEYONCE moment, a force of no-fucks and moody club jams, only slightly derailed by the descent into ridiculous ballads that almost overshadow all the hard work gone before them.
So does it justify the investment? Absolutely, and then some. It’s not hard to be the best album in Rihanna’s back catalogue (FYI – Rated R, until now), but Anti sets a standard that even she might find hard to beat. It’s got spike, sass, and layers of heart behind overt abrasion – in that respect, it’s probably the album that’s closest to Rihanna’s own personality, so it’s no surprise that it also has no trouble telling those who expected an anticlimax to fuck right off.