Ciara, ‘Ciara’ (Epic)
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Heartfelt congratulations to Ciara, first of all, for releasing an album in 2013, period. A Herculean feat (OK, Athenian, to pick a less mansplaining-prone deity) in a record-biz-death-throes era that mercilessly delays and shelves and terrorizes everyone from Big Boi to Missy Elliott to Mariah Carey to all other club-friendly personages with the misfortune to not be Rihanna. Just ask, say, Ashanti, if you can find her, which dollars to donuts you cannot.
Heartfelt congratulations to Ciara, furthermore, for being pretty rad! The this-is-finally-the-real-me title is an excellent sign: The Austin-born fashion plate’s fifth album caps an uneasy-R&B-trend-surfing career spanning the sublime (the trio of singles from her 2004 debut, Goodies, climaxing with the sensually pulverizing “Oh,” which was like injecting The Fast and the Furious directly into your neck) and the oft-label-beleaguered, throw-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks waywardness of what’s come since. The shit has occasionally missed the wall entirely: As records named after trashy sex thrillers go, 2011’s Basic Instinct was more of a Jade. This one is way, way, way better, not least thanks to a quaint little ditty called “Body Party.”
“Body Party”! Get a load of “Body Party.” As a pop-star gossip aficionado, you are doubtless aware that Ciara is now smooching transcendentally deranged Atlanta rapper/croaker genius Future; hence, this hilariously sexy duet (“hilariously sexy” being a rare and coveted combination of words), a slow-burn bubble bath of goofy eroticism furnished by radio-ubiquitous producer Mike Will Made It, which, via a viscous symphony of creaks and coos and squishy exaltations, reveals an existential truism underrepresented in popular song: The physical act of lovemaking, from an audio/visual perspective, both looks and sounds ridiculous. I would recommend “Body Party” to anybody.
Our young lovers reunite on the less hilarious and sexy “Where You Go,” an acoustic guitar-driven puff with some capital-S Singing (from both parties!) and a squiggly video-arcade hook and an unsightly resemblance to Lil Wayne’s beyond-corny “How to Love” and a nonetheless endearingly vapid overall vibe. Which reoccurs — the endearment, the vapidity. Ciara is not a highbrow affair; Dad Jokes Sung by a Beautiful Woman could’ve worked as a title. Consider the purring “Sophomore” (“So soft… gimme more,” ya see), the not-enough-Purell-in-the-world road-head anthem “DUI” (“Lipstick all over your neck / These seats are dripping with sweat”), or the flabbergasting head-in-general anthem “Read My Lips” (“Downtown / You gotta savor it / I know it’s your favorite dish”), which would’ve benefited greatly from even 90 seconds of R. Kelly’s undivided attention and sounds like something Miley Cyrus would put out if she was consciously trying to break the Internet. I would recommend “Read My Lips” primarily to 12-year-olds.
What else? Nicki Minaj drops by twice, gets into the pun-heavy spirit of things (“No I never been there, but I like Bangkok”), and attempts to salvage the especially vapid romantic-comedy shopping montage “Livin’ It Up.” (The strutting, blaring “Overdose” is way more successful as an earworm-farm Song of the Summer dark horse.) Ciara herself raps saucily on a self-explanatory sugar-and-sirens bromide called “Super Turnt Up” that succeeds in spite of itself; her range throughout this thing is impressive, from the breathy coquette of the Future tracks to the nuclear-sass vengeful heroine of “Keep on Lookin’,” which makes the chorus “Keep on lookin’ / Keep lookin’ all wit’ yo’ lookin’ ass” sound like Shakespeare, or at least Armando Iannucci. “I would tell you to fuck off / But I’m still such a lady,” she notes delightfully on that one, which seems to scoff at all those who doubted she’d ever put out a fifth album. Don’t feel bad if you once scoffed, too.