Rihanna has built a career out of barely caring.
She sings like she can hardly be bothered to do so. She routinely shows up late on stage, then proceeds to perform as if she’s doing us a favor, and really, has plenty of other things she could be doing. She seems to be equally concerned with social media and music, which is to say, if she feels like sharing something, she does so, and if she’d rather be partying on a yacht somewhere, well, who can argue?
So it’s been three years since her last album release, a span of time during which, incongruously, she has been hogging more of the spotlight than ever, despite not really putting much effort into stoking her own star-maker machinery. “Anti,” (Roc Nation) her latest, arrived somewhat out of the blue last week, through an exclusive deal with Tidal, the streaming service run by Jay Z. Not surprisingly, the album is a mish-mash. It sounds at times like the work of someone who’d rather be doing something else. At others, Rihanna actually sounds engaged. But these moments are the exception, not the rule.
The thrills here are cheap ones – the peppy dance-pop number “Work” that is nearly tropical, but not quite, features Drake at his sleepy, mush-mouthed worst, intoning as if he’s battling Rihanna in the ennui sweepstakes; “Kiss It Better” is equally banal, but the blatant ’80s throwback production is at least good for a giggle; “Higher” is perhaps the album’s high point, a genuinely soulful piece that suggests what Rihanna might sound like if she actually cared enough to become a great singer, rather than a stoned-sounding, sleepy mumbler who routinely confuses icy remoteness with sexiness.
The lack of clear direction here is not surprising, for Rihanna has always been a bit of a tabula rasa, upon which whoever happens to be producing and writing for her at the time etches their own impressions of who or what Rihanna might be. Trying to ascertain what the singer actually wants her music to represent is akin to embracing a cloud of smoke. It’s pointless, because Rihanna is better at being famous than she is at making music. On “Anti,” this truly shows.
Megadeth seemed to be headed for the “once great band” bin after 2012’s limp “Super Collider,” a collection that sounded wholly joyless, as if it was difficult to make, and was therefore, even more difficult to listen to. “Dystopia,” (Universal) out this week, kicks such a notion to the curb – with the addition of new guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Chris Adler, founder and leader Dave Mustaine has been rejuvenated. This is the strongest, most ferocious display of high-speed battery and virtuosic precision to bear the Megadeth imprimatur in decades.
Mustaine knows better than most that anger is energy, and his best work has always been tinged with righteous fury and, on occasion, downright disgust with man’s capacity for inhumanity. He’s all fired up here, dishing the judgmental dirt during “Fatal Illusion,” indulging in a creepy conspiracy theory during “The Threat Is Real,” and spitting vitriol during the epic “Post American World.”
The lyrics are not the big pull here, though. We listen to Megadeth to hear the tightest, most skillful and virtuosic thrash metal extant. “Dystopia” is brimming with the stuff.
As Black Sabbath hits the road for the final time in a tour known as “The End,” running through the summer and including stops in Hamilton, Ont., (Feb. 21) and Toronto (Aug. 29), deluxe editions of three of the band’s finest efforts are hitting the streets, courtesy of Rhino and Warner Bros. “Black Sabbath,” “Paranoid” and “Master of Reality” represent early Sabbath at its absolute peak, and these definitive remastered editions each come with a bonus disc of previously unavailable outtakes and alternative versions, as well as abundant photos and astute liner notes. These albums sound better than ever, but the real news here is the release of the long out-of-print double-live effort “Past Lives,” a doom-laden sludge-fest documenting Sabbath’s genre-defining “downer rock” at its mightiest, at various points between 1970 and ’75. This is psychedelic blues-metal at its absolute finest.