Anti existed as an album cycle before it existed as an album -- arguably long before Rihanna knew what form her eighth album would take, either. Work on Anti began in the autumn of 2014 and proceeded in semi-public, progress being measured in Instagram posts and tweets, along with intermittent singles, each released to white-hot anticipation but none metamorphosing into massive hits. When Anti finally appeared in January 2016 -- three years after Unapologetic and months later than expected -- it bore none of these 2015 singles, a move that suggests a tacit acknowledgment that neither the curiously muted Kanye West and Paul McCartney collaboration "FourFiveSeconds" nor the unrestrained roar of "Bitch Better Have My Money" functioned as appropriate anchors for the album. Then again, neither would've felt at home on the cloistered Anti, the first of Rihanna's records to feel constructed as a front-to-back album. Such a sustained sensibility distinguishes Anti from its predecessors, records where album cuts often felt like afterthoughts. That's not the case with Anti. This is an album whose heart lies within its deep cuts. Mood matters more than either hooks or rhythm: it's a subdued, simmering affair, its songs subtly shaded yet interlocked to create a vibe caught halfway between heartbreak and ennui. The latter has always been a specialty of Rihanna -- her distance from her material was at once appealing and alienating -- so hearing her lean into "Love on the Brain" and "Higher" is something of a revelation: her voice is hoarse and ravaged, yet she's also controlled and precise, knowing how to hone these imperfections so her performance echoes classic soul while feeling fresh. These songs come at the end of the album, after a series of songs that drift and wonder, the sound of an artist trying to figure out not only what her album is but who she is. By the end of Anti, Rihanna may not arrive at any definitive conclusions about her art but she's allowed herself to be unguarded and anti-commercial, resulting in her most compelling record to date.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine