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Rihanna opts out of crowd-pleasing pop for introspective work in new album

Barbadian singer Rihanna is one of the best-selling pop artists of all time.
Barbadian singer Rihanna is one of the best-selling pop artists of all time.PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE FACEBOOK

Rihanna eschews club bangers for post-party slow jams in Anti, her first full-length album in more than three years

Eight albums into her career, Barbadian pop princess Rihanna opts out of crowd-pleasing, throwaway pop for an introspective body of work, her first full-length album in more than three years.

It's a bold move. Riri is, after all, one of the best-selling pop artists of all time, with more No. 1 singles than you can count on two hands.

Eschewing club bangers for contemplative, post-party slow jams, however, makes Anti one of her most interesting releases to date. Perhaps the title alludes to a break from her past, a strident refusal to churn out easy electronic dance music chart-baiters a la We Found Love or Only Girl (In The World).

Anti's release itself was preceded by quite a bit of drama - the gap between it and her last album, 2012's Unapologetic, was long for an artist previously known to churn out albums annually like clockwork.

There were the early leaks, including an unintentional one by streaming service Tidal, which counts the singer as one of its owners. Tidal eventually released it as a free download.

It's an adventurous hodge-podge collection of styles, a mesmerising cover of Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala's New Person, Same Old Mistakes, renamed here as Same Ol' Mistakes, sits next to coffee house-style acoustic tenderness (Never Ending) before giving way to old-school doo-wop (Love On The Brain).

  • R&B

  • ANTI

    Rihanna

    Westbury Road/Roc Nation

    4/5 stars

A couple, James Joint and Higher, are little more than trippy interludes length-wise, but are compelling nonetheless because a seemingly tanked Rihanna is still capable of drawing the listener in with her singular voice.

While the aural mood is mellow, Rihanna's paean to relationships is still distinctively edgy.

It's hard to miss the reference to the highly publicised abuse she suffered in 2009 at the hands of former lover Chris Brown when she sings "it beats me black and blue, but it ***** me so good/And I can't get enough/Must be love on the brain yeah" on Love On The Brain.

The addictive nature of love and physical intimacy, no matter how toxic, always draws her back, so she sings on Kiss It Better ("So why argue? You yell, but you take me back/Who cares, when it feels like crack?").

She and her lover play Bonnie And Clyde on Desperado ("If you want, we can be runaways"), while Work, her third collaboration with Canadian singer and rapper Drake, explores the difference between a relationship based on a deeper connection versus one that's purely physical.

While Anti has its fair share of sticky melodies, memorable after the initial listen, most of the songs are best after several repeats.

Anti sounds like the work of an artist who wants her songs to last, rather than ride on current trends for fleeting highs.

Rihanna's album a hit?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Pop princess takes it slow'. Print Edition | Subscribe