Rihanna ANTI

[Roc Nation; 2016]

Styles: contemporary r&b, pop soul, blues, gospel
Others: SZA, Camera Phone, Drake, Blood Meridian, Kanye West

When Deities tell us to “Kiss it Better,” we go wild and believe that we can — because we can; because we breath in, breath out; because we sweat for a nickel and a dime; because we turn the kiss into an empire. When the Deity is washed in the labor-sweat cyst-ing underneath the lids of America’s wild-eyes, it fails, falls; the Deity’s experimentation with the savagery of our cracked-asphalt condition is a gilded worm poisoning bottles of neon Mezcal. When a steamy, Barbadian voice carries with it its own weather — its own climate — it tragically pours acid rain onto a mutating earth. The climate literally melts what was once considered permafrost. The glass-shard heart of nowhere is frothing into an unrecognizable shape from this.

There is no public debate for how the Deity will ever save us, but rest assured that it will try and sometimes succeed. A guitar-laden peon for what’s been lost carries a totally indescribable devastation when sung from a voice as iconic as Rihanna’s. When the pinnacle moment of trap music, obviously “BBHMM,” is botched from a record in order to arrive at a mysterious assemblage of questionable, curatorial memory-affect, we must wonder: what unknown plan has our goddess transforming herself into weird, nostalgic illegibility? What kind of song is “Woo” — a noise loop, a distorted assault of a lullaby — if not a metaphor for our desire for this illegibility? So, we have the Deity returning to its primordial form: a messy, gross blob of curved shape made from clay and silt slapped into an erotic, mystifying prayer-figure. If ANTI was a mirror, would we see our own image reflected back as this fetish-icon? She sings, “Please give my reflection a break from the face it’s seeing now.” Or would we see a machine-culture re-articulating hatred, blood — Lana and Impala sutured to the steamy heat of Tropicália? She sings, “Lost in the mirror I knew your face once/ But now it’s unclear.” In this mirror, perhaps we would see the world’s ocean’s rising; we would hear the entire ecology of its life as a resonant wave of emotion flecked with oil and trash.

Photo: Christopher Polk

When “Consideration” skitters into the mix with both a hot-iron snare and Rihanna’s voice unfurled into its raw potential, we can begin to see the liquefaction of our Deity back into an older form of American myth: the blues, the weird-love, that very spark of ambition that attempts to show everything that a signing voice can do. She bawls, “When I look outside my window I can get no peace of mind.” When “James Joint” meanders along, we hear an altered state of forced homeostasis waxing romantic over an enormous Hudson River School painting blurred with tar and blood. When “Kiss Me Now” triumphantly coos a ballad to the American moment of “fucked pride” and “kissing better,” the kiss of romantic death spews poison into another’s mouth. This all happens schizophrenically against the backdrop of an explosive sunset, against the fanfare of Wagnerian Bon Jovi guitars squealing eternally.

Then there’s “Work,” an ode to the soft/hard jam that bumps “Ta, ta, ta” continuously within the soft fuzz of juicy-couture sweatsuits brand-stamped with “The Boy’s” shitty signature. All of this pushes the album into a stretch of open road, all nods to Americana iconography and mythos, the “going big” and the “going home.” Large melodic choruses emblazon rodeo whips and hot grease; and, that voice, that voice could move mountains. She sings, “There ain’t nothing here for me.” She sings, “Desperado.” She sings, “The dead indie ditty,” insta-filtered sloppily as “Same Ol’ Mistake.” She sings, “I want you to homicide it.” She’s fist-fighting with fire, and it feels alive in the way that a 2012/2020 apocalypse might have/will.

What’s past the final door? Samsung-death and American fatalism.

ANTI is folk music played in a video-drome circularly projecting a 360° image of sprawling, semi-wilderness on fire as a compassionate, loving apocalypse. It’s a charged bleeding heart of sponsorship and exclusivity thrown into the throat of Yosemite. It’s a white horse galloping fiend-like across the continental divide, with a hoof-print-tire-tread that could pull the land apart.

Links: Rihanna

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