On Tuesday afternoon, a dozen music writers and various industry folk ended up in a third-floor studio in New York's East Village to hear Ciara's forthcoming self-titled album, which won't be released until July 9. The very early listen may have something to do with Ciara's trial-and-error roll-out. The veteran Atlanta singer — who has been around for nearly a decade but who'll be just 27 when her fifth album drops — has offered up, then swept aside three singles ("Sweat," "Sorry," "Got Me Good") in the last 11 months, and only very recently did one finally catch on.
Fourth single "Body Party," which samples Ghost Town DJ's seminal "My Boo," was co-written with rap&B hit boy (and Ciara's boyfriend) Future and produced by the currently untouchable Mike Will Made It. Ciara works within a limited range of sounds and pings between a few different styles, and where the project's previous teasers weren't inventive enough to separate themselves from her past, "Body Party" has found that sweet spot where familiarity works in her favor (watch the video here). This is the type of steamy, airless ballad — in which the drums don't hit as much as they exhale — that Ciara perfected on her 2006 smash hit "Promise," but with a clever flip of a classic that feels fresh and inspired.
Nowhere on the album's nine other songs does Ciara double down on "Body Party." Ciara features no other ballads, but — perhaps burned by the disinterest in "Got Me Good," the percolating throwback to tracks like "1, 2 Step" — it is not an uptempo album, either. Instead it's simply hard and aggressive, a more muscular version of the crunk&B sound she helped mint back in the mid-2000s. The final product suggests that conceptually not much changed when the original title One Woman Army was scrapped. Ciara told the room that the idea of a "one-woman army" has been rolled into what is now Ciara, but the line between the two titles is blurred beyond recognition.
Operatic, thumping tracks like "I'm Out" and "Super Turnt Up" don't make you want to push up as much as mosh. The bulk of the album is unmistakably Ciara, but its Teflon coating makes it stand out from her four other albums. She told the room that she felt as comfortable as ever when working on this album, in a place that reminded her of how she felt leading up to her debut record Goodies. She told a story of how she nearly twice lost the beat to her first number one single "Goodies" — once to Chingy — but remained steadfastly aggressive in pursuit of what she saw as her vision. Ciara is an album from someone eager to fight (at a party, at least).
The most striking track on the record is "Overdose," which deftly wedges a scraping EDM beat into her aesthetic. But there is no drop, no desperation — just a simple and tasteful experiment that could mushroom into something resembling a hit. If anywhere, it's here that you see the legacy of "Body Party," the song that sparked Ciara's fifth album after three false starts. Will it become a hit or settle as another unheard cult favorite? Let's talk in six months.