It’s been a long and winding road for Ciara Harris since her 2004 introduction via the sensuous, Lil Jon-produced thump that was “Goodies.”
Initially an artist that appeared to be an obvious one hit wonder, the ATL-ien flipped the script and churned out hit after hit for the next three years before the gravy train stopped.
Seven years after her last hit album–2006’s The Evolution–with two failed albums (and celebrity romances), several stalled first singles and a greatly diminished public profile, Ciara looked like she’d finally reached the “here today, gone tomorrow” wall that she seemed so destined to hit immediately after “Goodies”’ runaway success.
That was until “Body Party.”
The track’s sensual, almost narcotic haze—built upon a classic, memory triggering sample of fellow Atlanta natives (and actual one hit wonders) Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo—isn’t just one of the best singles of the year, it’s also one of the best songs that Ciara’s ever done.
“Body Party’”s status—her first R&B top ten hit in three years and a certified summer smash—aims as being thr opening salvo in the singer’s commercial resurgence (since an artist like Ciara is rooted firmly in the charts).
So why is Ciara—her fifth release—so forgettable?
“Party” easily proves to be the brief, ten-track set’s lone high point. Producer Mike Will—the man behind “Party”’s slow-grind magic—proves that magic doesn’t always strike twice on “Where You Go”, a duet with Ciara’s current beau Future (who shares executive producer status on the disc with the singer and reunited mentor L.A. Reid). While Future’s auto-tuned “oohs” on “Party” further accentuate the song’s unhurried sensual crawl, his croon on “Go” clashes significantly with his duet partner’s featherweight falsetto. Far blander than Future’s collaboration with Ciara’s rival and fellow vocally limited pop&B chanteuse Rihanna’s “Loveeeeee Song”, the pop-aiming ballad is an easy miss.
Ciara’s voice, a malleable, almost non-existent coo, is in the same vein as Janet Jackson and Aaliyah—the two starlets whose footsteps she clearly follows. Like Jackson and Aaliyah, her almost weightless vocal presence makes her a producer’s wet dream. Her voice is merely just another sound that smoothly blends into a track’s soundscape. Yet, while Jackson and Aaliyah both prospered musically, thanks to chemistry with one production unit—Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Timbaland, respectively–Ciara and Ciara—which nearly features a different producer on each track–has not.
Along with the generally tossed-off nature of most of the songs, Ciara’s main flaw is its lack of direction. It’s obvious that both Ciara and her handlers are throwing many potential stabs at the charts and seeing what sticks. While that’s not a bad aim from a business standpoint, it doesn’t do much for believability. Whether she’s the “too fly for this” ex (on “I’m Out”, one of two duets with Nicki Minaj), the too-hot-to-resist vixen that’s playing hard to get (“Keep on Lookin’”), or sexually assertive cunnilingus advocate (“Read My Lips”, which sounds eerily similar to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong To Me”), she sounds like she’s singing from a teleprompter. This lack of identity becomes even more evident when she tries to convey aggression (see “Super Turnt Up”, which features a rather unconvincing rap from the lady herself). The album’s attempts at catering to Top 40 trends—most evident during the disc’s second half, most explicitly on the Euro pop bounce closer “Overdose”-seemed similarly forced.
Caught between the pursuit of commercial resurgence and the expression of her own burgeoning womanhood, Ciara’s goal of achieving both ultimately seems perilous at best.