Release Date: Jul 9, 2013
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop, R&B, Contemporary R&B
Pop music, not in the loose sense, but in the major label-backed, manufactured, and profit-driven Top 40 pop sense, has the potential to be really weird. Yes, it is market-driven and often full of artifice, but it has always been inextricably linked to the subcultures that defy and evade it. Pop music’s mainstream is a digestion engine, an algorithmic function whose input is the whole of culture and whose output is the same, but in an aesthetically unified and deliberately packaged form.
Everyone who's seen the video to 2010's single, Ride – in which grooves and moves are beyond slick – must have thought this: how is Ciara not an even bigger deal? Three years on from that single and its album, Basic Instinct, the 27-year-old R&B star has a fifth album that might make this her moment. Or, rather, another single that might. Because however good the other tracks are here (including Read My Lips, which manages to be both ridiculously lubricious and kind of sweet with its promise of a "home-cooked meal"), it's her indomitable track with Nicki Minaj, I'm Out, that powers this album.
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.
One of the most heartening moments on Ciara's fifth album comes when Nicki Minaj – with whom the R&B singer has built up a welcome chemistry of late, with three superb collaborations during the past year – devotes half her guest rap on Livin' It Up to affirming her partner's greatness. It's a sisterly riposte to Ciara's name having become a byword for commercial failure, which is a reflection less of her talent than of mismanagement and fickle pop trends. In fact, Ciara has quietly built up a formidable discography, and this eponymous set maintains the high quality.
Ciara’s 2004 debut Goodies arrived at the tail-end of the last R&B boom. Its best moments used the churn and snap of “crunk’n’b” as a vehicle to re-imagine and repackage the frothy, light-hearted dancefloor charm of early Janet Jackson or Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, only replacing girlish energy with insouciance and reserve. She wanted you to drip the sweat she never perspires.
When Ciara emerged to the front of the Atlanta music scene, she was only 18 years old. Goodies played a big part in the push of pop-R&B dominance of the mid-2000s. Ciara was the perfect artist for the time. Her mesmerizing dance moves coupled with her well-produced, catchy hits made her a force to be reckoned with in the pop world.
It was hard to figure out what exactly Ciara meant when she Instagrammed the tracklist for her new album and included this puzzling credit: “'Super Turnt Up,' ft. Ciara.” It's undoubtedly meant as a cute fillip for her debut as a guest rapper, but coupled with the cover art depicting CiCi posing with a mirror image of herself like an R&B-cum-Fosse Rorschach test, one worries the singer is starting to crack up. Her career, after all, has been nothing short of a majestic downward spiral, with some of her strongest material met with cavalier negligence by her ex-label and increasing dismissal from R&B audiences.
When Ciara first started making the pop radio rounds, she was 18 and, though of a refreshingly mature temperament, far from her max potential. Following the initial wave of fandom that came with 2004’s Goodies and singles like “Oh” and “1, 2 Step”, she’s been inching her way toward being one of the true R&B visionaries. Ci’s always had one of the most capable voices in contemporary R&B, far-reaching charisma, and a Houston-esque ability to take a song she didn’t write (at least not by herself) and find a way to imbue her own interpretive instincts in the mix.
Ciara sings as if singing were dancing. She stretches syllables out into long arcs. She accelerates and then decelerates. She’s almost never staccato, moving fluidly from one word into the next and then through. In an era when R&B flirts so heavily with mainstream dance music, relying on direct ….
After falling off the pop radar, Ciara returns on her fifth record brimming with attitude and flaunting her undeniable sexual magnetism. Since her 2004 smash, “Goodies,” Ciara has had trouble finding the right commercial song and it appears she’s still searching. On 10 tracks she’s assisted by collaborators Darkchild and the ubiquitous Mike Will Made It.