So it took her awhile to finally hit her stride with the excellent “Body Party,” easily one of the year’s best singles: That
Ghost Town sample! That fluttery falsetto! That absurdly provocative video! It’s a song that slinks and prowls, all sexy longing, more like a female equivalent of Miguel‘s minimalist sex soul than the urban chanteuses with whom she tends to get lumped. It felt like a fresh start, and it proved to be, as “Body Party” notched Ciara her biggest chart hit in years.
And she delivers on the promise of that first single (even if everyone knew it was actually the fourth) with this, her self-titled album, which feels like a more authentic representation of her vision as an artist than any of her previous records — certainly her last two, the hit-and-miss Basic Instinct and the sharply produced but ill-timed Fantasy Ride.
It’s a lean album at ten tracks: The opening track “I’m Out” was already great but feels even better as an opening statement of intent, with Nicki Minaj‘s freshest verse in years (that Instagram line!), a shimmery summer-anthem chorus and a video that features CiCi as, um, Ciaralyn Monroe, or something. “Sophomore” is one of the sexiest tracks she’s ever cut, with a hook built on a pun that’s nothing short of ingenious, while “Keep On Lookin’” and “Read My Lips” feel like two sides of the same coin, one all trappy, burned-out desire and the latter bouncy, wobbly and sweet even as it’s hilariously explicit. The eerie “Where You Go” and “DUI” are more expansive and diffuse than many of the other, tauter tracks. The beating heart of the record, though, has to be“Super Turnt Up,” which is one of her best songs ever, period: It’s smooth but furious, layered and dynamic, with Ciara rapping against herself against trap-and-blues production.
Ciara runs far too short — it feels like it’s over before it’s even started — but that leanness probably serves her, especially considering how much of the competition tend to overstuff. She doesn’t fall into that trap here.Anyone who’s watched Ciara perform know that everything is executed perfectly — every dance move, every hair flip. She’s a peerless performer. For the first time, the product feels just as sharply edited: There’s a keenness to Ciara that’s rare. It’s probably her best album yet, which is great — but most thrillingly of all, for the first time, it feels certain that this won’t be her last.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: There’s no denying that “Overdose” has massive hit potential: It’s as sugary a pop classic as any in Ciara’s back catalogue, with a storming chorus and that “Somebody call the doctor!” hook that’s instantaneous and addictive. Call it the easiest song on the album to overdose on. (Sorry.)
Pops Like: The biggest pop moments of Ciara’s career, but poppier, and the sultriest R&B moments of Ciara’s career, but sultrier. It’s Ciara, refined.
Full Disclosure: I’ve always had a soft spot for CiCi, especially as setbacks and label drama have resulted in her earning an undeserved reputation for commercial underperformance. There are other R&B songbirds in the game (I’m not naming names) who work half as hard for twice the results, and even have the audacity to shade Ciara along the way. But whether or not Ciara earns her the kind of mainstream success she deserves doesn’t matter. The right people know that she’s the one to beat.
Tracks to download: 'Body Party', 'Livin' It Up', 'Super Turnt Up', 'Read My Lips'...and the BEST ALBUM TRACK: 'OVERDOSE'
Check out our track-by-track review of Ciara's 10-song full-length opus.
1. "I'm Out" (feat. Nicki Minaj)
"Ladies it's your song/ So as soon as this come on/ You should get out on the floor/ Go and get your sexy on/ If you know that you better than the new girl that he on/ Go 'head and tell him now/ 'You gon' miss me when I'm gone," Ciara opens the bass-heavy, club banger. What's better than one woman celebrating the end of an unhealthy relationship? Two talking their 'ish as the production applauds.
2. "Sophomore" Ciara straddles the Soundz's produced-synths ("Gimme Dat") with come-ons ("You gon' be my student, I'm gon' be your teacher/ Let's p lay a little game, follow the leader/ I give a little lesson in sex education") and self-compliments ("So soft, my skin/ So soft, my booty/ So soft, my bed/ I got 'em saying' 'Gimmie more"). Flaunt it, if you got it.
3. "Body Party"
Ciara delivers her best steamy slow jam, and only one on the album, since "Promise," while revitalizing Ghost Town DJ's R&B classic "My Boo." Her boyfriend, rapper Future is heard throughout the slinky, Mike Will Made It-produced track, 'oohing' and 'aahing,' respectively.
4. "Keep On Lookin'" To all who second-guessed Ciara, from former lovers to critics, Ciara has a message for you: "I would tell you haters to f-ck off, but I'm still such a lady/ Hate to say that 'I told ya,' now you see I ain't playing/ I'm on another level, you should come get like me/ Can't no one do it better, is that so hard to believe?" "Keep On Lookin'" is yet another "Ciara" track in which the singer stands tall in self-assurance.
5. "Read My Lips" A 2013 R&B album, from a female R&B singer, wouldn't be complete without an ode to the oral-obssessed. "So we're staying in tonight. Everybody is going out, can we sit this one out, baby? I got something else in mind. Close the blinds, dim the lights and you better bring your appetite," the singer kicks off a domino affect of innuendos that prove tasty and tart.
6. "Where You Go" (feat. Future) Mike Will Made It and Future team up with Ciara yet again for a love song, but unlike "Body Party," "Where You Go" feels lighter, as Future kicks off the up-tempo song singing (his favorite past time in which he always flourishes) of his dedication as a lover.
7. "Super Turnt Up" Ciara channels all sides of her that love touches on the self co-produced cut, from the catering, hopeless romantic to the feisty, free-spirted rapper.
8. "DUI" Ciara's echoing, breathy vocals seduce on the song's thumbing soundscapes, courtesy of Soundz and The Rockstars. "In the middle of the high-way, me and my babe/ R. Kelly on the radio, let it play… You got your hand on my thigh, I got my hand on the wheel and the other… I rather not mention," the singer begins the provocative story of her and her boo teasing and touching while riding around. "I might have to pull over."
9. "Livin' It Up" (feat. Nicki Minaj) Before introducing "Ciara" to the world with "Body Party," she quietly teased fans with the Wynter Gordon-written "Livin' It Up." The island-flavored, feel-good track is not only a boost of energy, but you guessed it, confidence: "I'm livin' on borrowed time/ And I'm going to be gettin' mine/ I will be wrong if I don't try/ I don't know when my next meal's coming all I know is I'll be running." Minaj comes at the latter part of the song with a well-deserved pat on the back.
10. "Overdose" Ciara closes her album strong. The singer experiments with EDM and pop on the album's best song, "Overdose," and wins. The up-tempo song, produced by Josh Abraham and Oliver "Oligee" Goldstein (Carly Rae Jepsen's "Turn Me Up and Britney Spear's "Up & Down"), appeals to fans of all genres, oozing funk and featuring an addictive hook.