The great irony of Rihanna’s long-awaited album Anti, which arrived Jan. 27 after months of delays and false starts, is this: for most of her career, Rihanna albums really weren’t something people hungered for. They were hodgepodges of tracks from top hitmakers, and they arrived like clockwork: she released an unheard-of seven albums from 2005 to 2012. Prolificacy paid off–she has as many No. 1 singles to her name as Michael Jackson–but left her unfulfilled. “A lot of my songs … don’t feel like me,” she told MTV last year. “I want to make songs that are timeless.”
Anti doesn’t have many likely radio hits, but it does have, at last, a strong point of view: these hazy, left-field tunes indulge her personal tastes while exploring how lonely life at the top can be. Making “timeless” songs here means time traveling: on the stellar “Kiss It Better,” she pleads for intimacy over a guitar solo straight out of the ’80s; later she channels old-school soul on “Higher,” a whiskey-soaked come-hither with a stirring vocal performance. The lack of uptempo dance-pop may alienate some diehards, but by throwing out everything you think you know about a Rihanna album, she shows the rest of us why we’d want one in the first place.
This appears in the February 22, 2016 issue of TIME.