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Ciara - Topic

Fantasy Ride Play

The final version of Ciara's third album, issued after several months of delay, is quite dissimilar from the one detailed in an August 2008 Billboard cover story. According to the article, Fantasy Ride was to be divided into three sections tentatively titled "Groove City," "Crunk Town," and "Kingdom of Dance." At some point between then and the album's May 2009 release, this concept was mercifully scrapped, quite possibly because the track list underwent some changes. Regardless, it would not be difficult to construct an imaginary three-part Fantasy Ride from the finished product, with each song easy to slot into one of the designations. Had Ciara stuck with the city/town/kingdom concept, "Groove City" would have been the most populous and happening of the three. A couple of these ballads and slow jams are up there with the highlights from Goodies and The Evolution -- no coincidence that both were written and produced by the-Dream and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart (Rihanna's "Umbrella," Beyoncé's "Single Ladies"), the Jam and Lewis or Neptunes of their time. On the hypnotically winding "Like a Surgeon" (not a cover of Weird Al's Madonna parody), the-Dream provides some of his best, gimmicky, post-R. Kelly similes and metaphors, delivered by Ciara with all the necessary arrogance: "I appreciate your recovery time, but you need a physical one more time." "Keep Dancin' on Me," its opposite in sentiment, is as resigned and alluring as the-Dream's own "Fancy," swapping dejection for a kind of blissful yearning. Blink and you will miss what was to be "Crunk Town": "High Price" is a decent "Oh" revamp, with booming, low-end, creature-feature synths, and Ludacris all part of the mix, though Ciara's outlandish operatics are a new (and nice) touch. The five uptempo tracks that would have been "Kingdom of Dance" are uneven, exemplified by the hobbling flop that is "Love Sex Magic," an easily forgettable Justin Timberlake collaboration, and "Work," an over-stuffed dancefloor mess that does not benefit from Missy Elliott's hoarse hectoring. Even if Ciara imaginatively develops the "Super C" superhero introduced in the disc's booklet, she and her collaborators will have to work extra hard on the next album to ensure that she does not stall in a creative cul de sac. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Basic Instinct Play

On her fourth album, Ciara works extensively with Terius “The-Dream” Nash and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, the duo who collaborated on four of Fantasy Ride's best tracks. Unsurprisingly, the move fosters the singer’s most consistent and unified release. For the most part, Nash and Stewart alter their ever-present sound just enough to avoid repeating themselves, albeit while incorporating some of their telltale sonic imprints -- the dive-bombing synths, the subtle background-vocal chirps, the unrivaled sonic opulence. They cover each base with great accuracy; there’s a bombastic intro, a sleazy club track, some playful pop, and a ballad with a feather-light touch among them. The euphoric “Speechless” is the best of the seven Nash/Stewart productions, working a kind of regal slow-motion glide with synthetic horns and trunk-shaking bottom as Ciara’s voice hovers in a love-struck daze. A few songs touch upon characteristics from Ciara’s first two albums without being complete retreads; the Infinity-produced “Yeah I Know,” for instance, enters like a low-profile update of “Goodies” -- Ciara is half confrontational, half flirtatious -- but incorporates a twisting, glitzed-out chorus. “Turn It Up,” featuring Usher, improves upon Ciara’s other attempts at aggressive dance-pop. It’s one of the few effective Euro-flavored club numbers to be fronted by an R&B artist. Altogether, this is one of 2010’s finest pop-R&B albums -- Ciara's best yet. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Ciara Play

Whether she was dropped, released, or merely shifted away from her deal with LaFace parent Jive, Ciara was displeased with the lack of support given to Fantasy Ride and Basic Instinct. Her self-titled fifth album sees her back with LaFace co-founder L.A. Reid, president of Epic, whose roster added several LaFace artists due to distributor Sony's consolidation of labels. Ciara took plenty of time to develop the album -- long enough for delays, a scrapped lead single ("Sweat"), the release of various non-album cuts, and even a change of title (originally One Woman Army). The result isn't a muddled mess but another lean and focused set, despite the involvement of several writers and producers. A full-length partnership with fellow Atlanta native Mike Will, specialist in woozy and entrancing trunk rattlers, would have been ideal -- if perhaps too obvious -- but they do connect on "Body Party," one of Ciara's most attractive slow jams, as hot as "Promise" and "Speechless." Slinking and slightly predatory or confrontational content courses throughout the album, including the booming "Sophomore" ("So you say that you a bachelor/Well step your game up and get your master's), the winding "Keep on Lookin'" ("Keep on lookin', keep on lookin' with your lookin' ass), and the steamier, more gleaming likes of "Super Turnt Up" and "DUI." Those are the highlights, while the more energetic and/or pop-oriented material -- "Overdose," the Kid 'N Play-quoting "Livin' It Up," the mature and middling Future duet "Where You Go" -- is functional if not as memorable. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Goodies Play

Thanks to a few productions by hitmakers Lil Jon and Jazze Pha, there are indeed some Goodies to be found on Ciara's debut album, even if the young dance-pop singer does little to distinguish herself from the legion of fellow young dance-pop singers filling the urban American airwaves. The title track is far and away the highlight here, one of seemingly countless Lil Jon songs to become hits in summer 2004 (others including Usher's "Yeah!," Trillville's "Neva Eva," Lil Scrappy's "No Problem," Pitbull's "Culo," and Petey Pablo's "Freek-a-Leek"). "Goodies" is fairly similar to these songs, except that it's sung by a young girl. In fact, the song is an apparent response to "Freek-a-Leek," employing a near-identical beat and the services of that song's rapper, Petey Pablo. The difference is that while "Freek-a-Leek" took the hardcore rap perspective of courtship, boasting of Petey's sexual exploits and how he can provide all a woman could possibly want physically, Ciara takes the contemporary R&B perspective, boasting contrarily that she has what all the guys want but won't be exploited: "I bet you want the goodies/Bet you thought about it/Got you all hot and bothered/Mad 'cause I talk around it/If you're looking for the goodies/Keep on looking 'cause they stay in the jar." It's a simple song, yes, but it's quite a rousing album opener. From there, the next four songs -- "1, 2 Step," "Thug Style," "Hotline," "Oh" -- are good, if not great, as executive producer Jazze Pha serves up some first-rate beats and catchy hooks here and there. But just as Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love descended into boilerplate balladry during its second half, Goodies unfortunately follows suit, bringing the initial festivities to a cloying conclusion. In the end, the beats of Lil Jon and Jazze Pha are the true Goodies here. Ciara is likeable enough, especially on the dance songs, where she resembles a young Janet Jackson, not so much actually singing as projecting a personality onto the productions. However, when she turns to run-of-the-mill ballads on the album's second half, she seems just as faceless as the songs themselves, lacking panache and, at times, personality. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

The Evolution Play

Evolution is a slow process, so it shouldn't be startling that The Evolution is not a quantum leap forward from Goodies. Ciara's second album, The Evolution is held together by a handful of immaterial monologues that would be best left to an interview disc. Take "The Evolution of Music," where she states, "I feel like music is so different than what it used to be, and because of that, I was inspired to do something different this time around." And then in comes "Promise," yet another song referencing Kraftwerk and Zapp, and it also takes cues from prime Janet Jackson and Aaliyah -- so, no, it's not different at all. Make no mistake, though. The song is tremendous, one of the sexiest, slow-tempo, non-breakup songs of the past ten years. Yet, for all the talk of developing and being different, one might expect an album not as firmly rooted in electro and early '80s R&B as Goodies. (Even the album's sleek cover, somewhere between Robocop and the Pointer Sisters' Break Out, has a devolved look.) Those who can disregard the discrepancies between the pronouncements and the actual content will find an album that's on equal footing with Goodies. With the exception of "Promise," The Evolution lacks clear-cut highlights on the level of "Goodies," "1, 2 Step," and "Oh," but there are fewer outright disposables. Ciara and her songwriting partners' injection of a little more substance into the songs tends to pay off, as on "Like a Boy" ("What if I had a thing on the side, made you cry?/Would the rules change up, or would they still apply?"), while "My Love" and "So Hard" also surpass the aching and breaking moments on the debut. As expected, there are plenty of tracks geared toward letting loose and dancing, and most of them do deliver, even if they don't seem quite as fresh as Ciara's past hits. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Playlist: The Very Best of Ciara Play

Each release in the Playlist series tends to be pitched somewhere between a proper overview and a rarities collection. The approach can be aggravating to both casual and loyal fans of a given artist. Sure enough, this is the case with Ciara's Playlist, which covers 2004's Goodies through 2010's Basic Instinct. During this period, Ciara delivered nine singles to the Top Ten of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Only five of them are here; "Oh," "Get Up," and "Ride" are missing, while "Like a Boy" appears in the form of a Jonathan Peters dancefloor remix. This leaves plenty of room for other material, from "Speechless" (an excellent single that flopped) to "The Title" (a solid, L.T.D.-sampling album cut) to the "slow bass remix" of "Gimme Dat" (which easily trumps the original mix). The singer's catalog deserves better than this. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Goodies/The Evolution Play

A European release, this two-disc package combines Ciara’s first two albums: Goodies (2004) and The Evolution (2006). Between the two, both of which went platinum, Ciara scored four Top Ten singles (“Goodies,” “1, 2 Step,” “Oh”, and “Get Up”), while a fifth single (“Promise”) narrowly missed the mark. Each disc has its share of filler, but there is a fair amount of depth beyond the hits. At the time it came out -- just prior to Basic Instinct -- there was no Ciara best-of on the market. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi
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