Rihanna underwhelms with long-awaited 8th release

Conor Battles, Editor-in-Chief, Arts & Entertainments Editor

Albums years in the making can end up one of two things: laudable, magnificent LPs that live up to the monumental hype, or decidedly bland affairs whose mediocrity is highlighted by its lengthy buildup. For a significant portion of Rihanna’s much-anticipated eight outing, ANTI, the latter is the case.

For an album that was supposed to have been worked on consistently for the last three years or so, ANTI leaves much to be desired. As a pop album, it fails to innovate like Unapologetic, or even get people dancing like “Umbrella.” The superb singles Rihanna dropped over the last year, including the sublime “B***h Better Have my Money” and the Kanye West-Paul McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds,” are absent. Instead, the tracks on ANTI focus on Rihanna’s unique blend of dub, dancehall, and brooding R&B. It’s an eclectic mix, and there are undeniably some solid tunes to be found, but it is clear that what wound up on the cutting room floor over the past three years may well have been better than the finished product.

Rihanna barely feels like the star of her own album. The production, from heavyweights like Boi-1da, DJ Mustard, and Timbaland, is more multifaceted and interesting than the uninspired vocals laid over them. The roster of guest features, from SZA on opener “Considerations” to Drake on “Work,” outshine Rihanna herself in their performances. To go from a pop star to a master curator is hardly a new concept –  the production credits on most albums nowadays fill more than a few pages – but Rihanna seems content to let her costars do the talking on ANTI.

That ANTI will boast some heavy radio play and move a few million units is a foredrawn conclusion. The ANTI World Tour set to kick off this month, with support from Travi$ Scott and The Weeknd, will likely fill arenas and prove to be a solid live concert experience. But the simple truth is that, for an album hyped as long and teased as mercilessly as ANTI, one gets the impression of being cheated. There was so much more only hinted at in the months and years leading up to its release, only for it to fall flat in a wash of mediocrity. It would be an infinitely less bitter pill to swallow had it not taken so long to deliver.