Early Wednesday night, just hours after Rihanna released her new Drake collaboration “Work,” the Barbadian pop star’s eighth album ANTI leaked after a botched TIDAL rollout. Now, refusing to take our sweet time like Rihanna did making this album, the SPIN staffers and contributors are chiming in with their impulsive reviews.
Brennan Carley: Until ANTI leaked last night, “Work” was looking like the oddest lead single push in recent pop history. It’s slow, dutty-whining mumblecore — pretty, too, but a misleading indicator of the singer’s eighth album as a whole. ANTI is a gorgeous, fully rendered mess, though the most lovable kind. It’s hard to follow Rihanna’s thread all the way through, but there are enough reoccurrences to make sense of the LP. There’s ambition, for a change, trying out new sounds and genres (classic soul on “Love on the Brain”); there are raw, untethered vocals (the cruelly short “Higher” goes full “At Last” with its strings as Rih bellows through tear-streaked eyes). There’s artistry — abandoning most of her mainstream hitmakers (bye bye Stargate, Sia, and Ester Dean, there’s no place for you among the artsy, SZA-assisted “Consideration” and the wild, straight-faced Tame Impala lift “Same Ol’ Mistakes”). The rollout of ANTI was a disaster. The finished product bears none of the pockmarks you’d expect. It’s unpolished, yes, but Rihanna’s always been about giving you what’s real on her terms.
Early Score: 8/10
Andrew Unterberger: The evidence that Rih has been listening to Tame Impala’s Currents goes beyond the inspired (if bizarre) karaoke cover of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” — ANTI also shares that album’s general flow and reliance on interlude-length tracks, its aqueous depth of production, and its artist-unprecedented sense of instrumental restraint and lyrical introspection. Of course, after a more than three-year absence, doing an album this personal-sounding would’ve been the only thing that made sense for Rihanna anyway — you don’t spend nearly an entire Presidential term working on your next David Guetta crossover track — and her Navy will and should undoubtedly love it, even if “Work” (which sounded oddly low-key yesterday but may as well be “We Found Love” on this album) is the only obvious single. In any event, it’s the first Rih album since Rated R for me that has the opportunity to grow its rating over time — the more I listen, the better.
Early Score: 7/10
James Grebey: I am livid that ANTI is as good — nay, as great — as it is. The multi-year lead-up to ANTI’s utterly bungled launch was an infuriating, flaming train wreck of an ordeal; almost every bad decision that could’ve been made during the promotional cycle was actually made. And yet… goddamn. Rihanna managed to create a smooth, coherent, and beautiful collection of songs that’s the antithesis of the album’s rollout. Effortlessly time-traveling tracks like “Love on the Brain” sound both completely of our dancehall-loving time, yearning to relax, and straight out of 1952. The Tame Impala cover (“Same Ol’ Mistakes”) is an astounding left-field inclusion. “Woo,” with its presumable Travis Scott production, is a rougher outlier, but not a deal breaker. No, ANTI is not her most “fun” LP — there aren’t many bangers to be had, but there’s also no “Bitch Better Have My Money,” mercifully. Part of me can’t help but pine for the garbage-heap album that my schadenfreude-loving worst self hoped and expected to get. Oh well — I’ll just play ANTI back again. That’ll cheer me up.
Early Score: 8/10
Israel Daramola: It’s been a little more than three years since Rihanna’s previous album, Unapologetic — a rare departure from a steady work ethic that’s been a hallmark of her career since she emerged in 2005. To both its credit and its great detriment, ANTI does not feel like the culmination of three years of labor, thought, and care. It’s tight and sonically more insular than anything she’s ever done. At times, it’s also downright dull. The fact that this album — which had such an extensive and heavily machined promotional campaign — was leaked before its official unveiling is fitting, considering it’s the equivalent of a crate of fireworks that fizzle but never explode. There’s no showiness to this record and any true appreciation for it will come with time, after many listens, not a snap judgement. Lately, it’s felt as though RiRi has grown weary of the grind of being a pop star. ANTI makes a strong case that the business of making music is draining to her, so she did the only thing left to do: make an album just for her.
Early Score: 6/10
Eve Barlow: Five in the morning is not the natural time of day to listen to dancehall unless you’re still in the club. But at 5 a.m. yesterday morning I was still in bed listening to “Work” by Rihanna because I’d set my alarm to hear it. There’s a protocol after months and months and — let’s face it — years of waiting for Rihanna’s ANTI. As is standard practice from the Diva 101 rulebook, Rihanna loves to make people wait. She’ll test the world’s patience beyond belief, but once she finally turns up everyone loses their chill and goes totally bananas because she’s f**king RIHANNA. And with that, we finally have ANTI, Rihanna’s first-ever together-sounding album. It starts off exquisitely blazed and continues to get more stoned: There’s a brief paranoia freakout moment (“Higher,” which is a tad shout-y) and it ends settling down for the night with lullaby “Close to You.” It has more WTF surprises than her previous records combined (the Tame Impala cover of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” “Never Ending,” which sounds like Dido’s “Thank You” if Dido spent her time rolling spliffs on a Malibu sunset). Despite its grandness, ANTI doesn’t turn its back on Ri’s roots. “Desperado” could be “Skin” mk II. The three singles from 2015 have been dumped, but “Kiss It Better” is as triumphant a Prince jam as it gets, and “Needed Me” is upgraded Rated R-era swag.
Early Score: 9/10
Safy-Hallan Farah: Eschewing hits for songs you can slowly grind to or spend an evening alone and high with, ANTI is a slow and brooding pop album. “I got to do things my own way darling,” Rihanna croons on “Consideration,” a clapper of a goodbye song featuring SZA. On the track, both her and SZA sound almost unrecognizable — SZA more so, but not in a particularly jarring way. It’s an appropriate introduction to an idiosyncratic album filled with slow cuts: The production is smooth and intoxicating, curating a vibe somewhere between nostalgic longing and indifference. If this record had a mood board, it would probably look like photos of neon lights at night, roller parks, weed dispensaries, grand pianos, guitars, beaches and sarongs. “Love on the Brain,” “Higher” and “Closer to You” showcase, vocally, what people often like to pretend Rihanna can’t do, which is sing. These songs sound like Rihanna broke into a church at night to record them while whiskey-drunk. “Kiss It Better,” “Needed Me,” and “Work” are the obvious highlights, but they blend in with the rest to create a deceptively simple but beautiful album.
Early Score: 7/10
Dan Weiss: Like the entire record, the lame-ass closing stretch is bigger than its parts. ANTI starts — first with its title and then with its music — as a brisk voyage through tantalizing, Frank Ocean-style sketches meant to signify a singles-driven artist’s capital-a Album coming-out party: “Fertilizer,” meet “James Joint.” But toward the end — sometime around the Tame Impala cover that betrays the original’s fealty to Beyoncé’s “****Flawless” and then the Idol-worthy finisher that won’t make Argentina cry for you, girl — the lobbying for respectability gets too Hillary when things were going just Bernie. Riri’s real breakthrough here (aside from the prominent return of Real Instruments and the space of a room on a pop album) is her voice. “Consideration” and the proudly minimal single “Work” thoughtfully explore the contours of her own accent, and on the latter she irresistibly hums through Auto-Tune. Elsewhere and all over she layers harmonies into the most beautiful singing of her career, brushed with bold strokes unheard on her robotic first-seven-albums-in-eight-years run. And if it’s not quite her sexiest album (that would be 2011’s finely filthy Talk That Talk), it’s certainly her most R&B. The perfect soundtrack to eat that special someone’s ass to.
Early Score: 8/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 7.6