Oh, Rihanna. You really know how to confound expectations.
Given the fact that this album has been so long in the making – and let's face it, the repeated rumoured release dates and subsequent delays didn't exactly fill fans' hearts with confidence - there will be a large portion of the Bajan pop star's fanbase that are both bewildered and disappointed by ANTI, particularly after waiting four years for it.
For everyone else? Well, it's possibly the most interesting thing she's done to date. That doesn't mean it's necessarily the best – but it's undoubtedly intriguing in a way that demands repeat listening. It sounds like Rihanna has reached a stage in her career where she is unconcerned with sales stats and number ones, but experimenting and finding out where she wants to go next. There are no Pon De Replays here, no Please Don't Stop the Musics or We Found Loves. Instead, there are hazy, stoner interludes with dreamy '70s soft rock vibes (James Joint), woozy, slow-drip ripostes to old fames (Needed Me), sultry r&b grooves that ramble for over 6 minutes (Same Ol' Mistakes) and tunes lifted from '60s soul clubs (Love on the Brain). There is even a tender piano ballad, Close to You, that sees the 27-year-old's voice in its finest fettle in several years.
It would have been so easy – expected, even – for Rihanna to knock out another album of soulless, over-produced, AutoTune-heavy songs that are geared towards Spotify streams or YouTube views or Facebook shares. As it stands, this odd, imperfect little pop album might just be the launchpad needed to propel her into a future that may be unknown, but at least one that is not dull and linear.