February 11, 2016 6:56 AM EST

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.

Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com.

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