Ciara is the most underrated female R&B artist of the last decade. Despite her eight Billboard 100 top-ten singles, she is seldom mentioned in the same sentence as Beyoncé or Alicia Keys. Despite sneak-attacking the industry with the uber-hit “Goodies” featuring Petey Pablo in 2004, and subsequently releasing the Goodies album to triple-platinum success, Jazze Pha’s protege has failed to match the buzz of her earlier career. There are a couple of reasons for that: first, transitioning from the folded LaFace Records to Epic Records was partially to blame for inconsistent albums; and second, Beyoncé has pretty much had the female soloist R&B game cornered for the past several years. However, at only 27, Ciara Princess Harris now seems to be poised for a strong comeback with her self-titled album.
Ciara is at a concise 10 tracks and proves very effective at showcasing Ciara’s considerable vocal abilities. The absolute standouts are the lead single, “Body Party,” and her beau Future-assisted “Where You Go.” The latter, made by the producer-of-the-moment Mike Will Made It, is actually a departure from his typical club anthem beats. The uptempo song is laced with acoustic and electric guitars, features impeccable arrangements and even has Future channeling Bob Marley (or Wyclef Jean) in his singing. Effectively, that is.
There are not one, but two collaborations with Nicki Minaj on this record, and both (“I’m Out” and “Livin’ It Up”) hold up well in terms of juxtaposing Ciara’s sexy vocals with raunchy and raunchier verses from Nicki, recalling the latter’s raps on French Montana’s “Freaks.” Elsewhere, “Sophomore” is a straight-forward bedroom anthem with 808 drums over which the grown-up Ciara doesn’t leave much to the imagination with lines like “so soft my booty, so soft my mattress” on the chorus.
On “Keep On Lookin,” which starts out with the obligatory dancehall sample (it seems that every album released this year has to have that), Ciara sends a similar message to lustful admirers that she first delivered with “Goodies.” Another standout is “Read My Lips,” which features a seductive, beautiful melody.
“Body Party,” however, is the true gem that anchors Ciara. Featuring a Janet Jackson-esque tempo and memorable arrangements, the song features Ciara’s soaring vocals over a Mike Will Made It production that has all the elements of a timeless R&B throwback. This notion is cemented when Ciara sings parts of Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo” on the song’s bridge.
Unfortunately, the record begins to falter with “Livin’ It Up,” which features pulsating, dance-ready arrangements that would be perfect for a Disney Channel show but are out of place on this album. The album closer “Overdose” has pop song written all over it but it isn’t very original, while “Super Turnt Up” and “DUI” are simply lackluster.
That said, the latest effort from Ciara is a strong showing and “Body Party” is a bonafide hit. Unfortunately, with a mere ten tracks on Ciara, the few missteps detract from its strong points and take away from an otherwise very impressive fifth album. Still, it’s good to hear new music from the R&B underdog.