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Ciara’s inconsistency fascinates me. On one end, you want to cheer any artist willing to forgo formula for the sake of innovation. However, sometimes trying new things feels more rooted in cynicism than creativity. Like they’re simply trying whatever, hoping something sticks. Whatever the case, where you land on Ciara’s sixth new album, Jackie, likely depends on what kind of artist you think Ciara should be at this stage in her career.
For some, her very well done but commercially underappreciated eponymous fifth album is her sweet spot. I quite enjoy that album, which was led by the fantastic “Body Party” but perhaps fizzled under the better-seen-on-stage-than-heard-on-the-radio “I’m On” with Nicki Minaj. That was the Georgia peach I remember from the days she kept her goodies locked in the jar. Sonically, that is the Ciara I prefer to hear.
If you are in agreement with me, then you may not enjoy Jackie as much as other fans since it doesn’t offer much of that Ciara. The album gives a mishmash of sounds found on a So So Def Bass All-Stars compilation album, hints of electro, and one too many slower numbers to my liking. Some songs somewhat harken back to the Ciara of yore. There is the track “Fly,” which is like the offspring of “1, 2 Step” and one of those inspirational songs R. Kelly used to do in the 1990s. It’s a track for the club, only not the kind I’d go to.
The same goes for “That’s What I’m Feelin’,” featuring Pitbull, Missy Elliott, and a heavy dose of uncredited background vocals from singer-songwriter Ester Dean. Ciara and Missy have remarkable chemistry, but when you think about Pitbull in 2015, it tells you everything you need to know about which audience will gravitate toward this more. It’s OK, but not nearly as much fun as the tracks on Ciara’s sophomore effort, The Evolution. Ditto for “Dance Like We’re Making Love.” The song, produced by Dr. Luke (who did a hefty amount of production on Jackie), sounds pretty but not remotely distinct. Likewise, another Dr. Luke track titled “Kiss & Tell” is cute but could be sung by anyone.
That ultimately is the gist of my complaints about her inconsistency: She already had a winning formula on the first and second albums—songs that sounded like her. It’s no coincidence both were the peak of her popularity.
She already had a winning formula on the first and second albums—songs that sounded like her. It’s no coincidence both were the peak of her popularity.
Ciara used to have the kind of songs you could blast outside of a fried chicken spot where bulletproof glass envelopes the employees. Think “Oh.” On Jackie, though, I feel like I’m inside of a Whole Foods that thinks it’s cool. For what it’s worth, Ciara’s voice sounds stronger than ever. It’s just much of what she’s singing lacks a certain oomph.
Even so, if nothing else, Ciara is always good for few good tracks on each of her albums. A personal favorite is “One Woman Army.” That was initially the title track of Ciara’s fifth album, but somehow ended up removed from the project altogether. She sounds confident; the production sounds theatrical without trying too hard; it will probably be the song Ciara dances to hardest.
I could’ve listened to a whole album of that instead much of what I heard. Does that make Jackie bad? Again, it matters which Ciara you prefer: the gritty or the glossy. To each his own.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.