First listen review – Rihanna: ANTI | Virgin Media
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First listen review – Rihanna: ANTIby Matthew Horton | Rating: ★★★★

28/01/2016Music

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At times it's felt as if world peace would arrive sooner than Rihanna's eighth album. It's been teased, delayed and generally fudged, but after the latest calamity saw the campaign spring a leak, ANTI's finally turned up, playing in full on TIDAL, streaming service to the stars.

So, as everyone tumbles over each other in the rush to flood the internet with white-hot opinion, let's get involved. ANTIcipation (see what we did there?) was dampened somewhat yesterday with the first play of Work, a perfunctory, sleepy (possibly stoned) toast-along with Drake, but with a dozen more tracks on offer today, hopes aren't quite dashed.

One look at the album credits sheds some light on ANTI's sluggish arrival – and sets off a few alarm bells. Legions of writers and producers are peppered across the tracks, from Timbaland to The Weeknd to Rihanna herself, and you'd be forgiven for expecting a hotchpotch of a record. Thankfully, ANTI hangs together even as it switches styles, trying out R&B slow jams, trad soul and even flirtations with avant-garde electronica, but all glued in place by the force of the singer's personality.

ANTI really works when Rihanna gets tender

It's a narcotised personality – Rihanna's not shy about being fond of the odd smoke – that slumbers through the aforementioned Work, the fragmented, electric-piano-fuelled soul-jazz of James Joint and the fluttering, ambient R&B of Yeah, I Said It. Elsewhere she has a little more bite. The itchy, reggae-tinged Consideration finds her spitting, "Will you ever respect me? No"; Desperado features Rihanna the gunslinger in waltz time, insisting, "I'm not trying to go against you" with a touch of menace; the imaginative, uneasy Woo distorts the levels with electronic brass blasts and Rihanna's dismissive "I don't really care about you no more".

She can be surprisingly tender though, and that's where ANTI really works. Kiss It Better ("I've been waiting up all night/Baby tell me what's wrong") adopts the kind of woozy guitar-shredding groove favoured by The-Dream or Miguel and glows with warmth, while ANTI's final furlong relaxes into a faithful cover of Tame Impala's New Person, Same Old Mistakes (renamed Same Ol' Mistakes), lovely folk ballad Never Ending and some dusty Atlantic soul in the doo-wop call and response of Love On The Brain.

By this point she's ditched the modern altogether, stretching her vocal cords on the conciliatory, scratchy old rhythm 'n' blues of Higher and finishing with the delicate jazzy frills of Close To You. These last few songs are an unforeseen twist on the Rihanna template – the only certainty is Rihanna the banger queen's been shelved for the time being, but ANTI shines without any of that clatter. Job done, let's have another go at world peace.