In recent history, Ciara‘s personal life has superseded her musical career–and for obvious reasons. Nearly a year after announcing her engagement to hip-hop artist, Future, the singer shockingly called off the anticipated wedding, followed by rumors of infidelity on the rapper’s part. She even graced the cover of Brides magazine, donning a wedding dress she would ultimately never get the chance to wear.
As most artists do when met with personal strife, Cici put her public breakup on wax with her first single “I Bet.” It gave listeners a glimpse into what the singer thought of the betrayal from the man she once publicly gushed over. The ballad had all the makings of great artistic expression: raw lyrics, emotive vocals and colorful production. Knowing the real-life inspiration behind the track made it all the more alluring. “I Bet,” at the very least, amassed much curiosity as to what her sixth studio album, Jackie, would offer.
The singer called the album one of her most personal projects to date, even naming it after her mother, whom Ciara says she can relate to as a woman now that she’s given birth to her own child, son Future Zahir Wilburn. “I’m seeing the world through my mother’s eyes,” she said of the project. Everything about the forthcoming album, from its lead single to cover art (a topless Ciara sitting on the ground bearing nothing but denim Levis), suggested the singer was ready to shed it all for the art, and give the world a stripped-down piece of herself she hasn’t always shared.
But on Jackie, Ciara slightly misses that mark. “I Bet” is one of the few songs that lyrically expresses any introspectiveness–the very theme the singer suggested with its title and lead single. While she doesn’t offer a new or deeper Ciara, she certainly presents a musically solid reiteration. Listeners know Ciara either as the crunk electrifier who, by default, channels the likes of Janet and Michael Jackson, or as the sensual crooner who exudes ultimate sex appeal through ballad form. Depending on which Ciara you prefer, you’ll either be reluctantly satisfied or entirely disappointed with Jackie. That’s not to say it’s not an enjoyable offering.
The opening track “Jackie (B.M.F.)” is a fun and braggadocious tune, where Ciara unapologetically drops the F-bomb and reminds listeners (or haters) of her beauty and resilience–though you have to sift through callow lyrics to get the message. “I just delivered a 9 pound, 10 ounce baby, I’m a bad motherfucker,” she asserts. Musically, “B.M.F.” is quintessential Ciara, sprinkled with a little amped-up rock and roll. That very “turn up” sound dominates the majority of the album. The Missy Elliott and Pitbull-assisted “That’s How I’m Feelin’”–which sounds like a modern reboot of 2004’s “1, 2 Step”–is an effortless dance tune that, at the very least, deserves a handful of replays. The vogue-friendly “Give Me Love” is less impressive and offers no variety to what we’ve already heard from the laundry list of EDM songs over the years. “One Woman Army,” which was once considered the title of a previously scrapped album, is more attention-grabbing. But while its militant, female empowerment theme works for an album seemingly about womanhood, it fails to give any true musical direction for what sounds like an already wayward album.
The singer makes up for that with undeniable standouts like “Dance Like We’re Making Love,” which is melodically smooth and erotic. Ciara’s airy voice is a perfect fit for the track’s punchy hook and sexually-charged lyrics. The pop-friendly “Kiss & Tell” and “Stuck On You” aren’t half bad either.
Ciara underwhelms most in lyrical content. Where most listeners may expect pensive reflections about love and heartbreak, Jackie falls more on the predictable side. Instead, on the majority of the tracks Ciara trivially boasts her beauty, fashion and sexual prowess in the bedroom (“ain’t nothing like rollin’ with a Georgia peach”). There’s nothing inherently wrong with this per se, considering part of motherhood and emerging from a bad breakup is rediscovering your inner sexy and confidence. But with an artist like Ciara who’s relied on these very same themes and sound so much in the past, you’d expect at least a more mastered presentation. Frankly, Jackie sounds like the singer recorded a handful of solid tracks that spoke to her recent life experiences and lazily threw in previously recorded tracks from older projects, all for the purpose of filling up the rest of the album.
The singer does, however, come through lyrically with “Fly,” a techno produced, post-breakup track that is the closest to complimenting the emotive approach of “I Bet.” Ciara freely let’s go of her former lover, giving him the permission to move on with his life without her. “I know that I wasn’t in the picture/Tried to paint it looking perfect/And it never worked for the both of us,” she sings. While uptempo, it doesn’t interfere with the emotional connection between the lyric and vocals. The choice to go upbeat suggests the singer wanted to convey survival, rather than being victimized by heartbreak. “Fly,” is more about moving on from it than it is about sulking in one’s sorrow.
The album’s most meaningful offering is arguably “I Got You,” a musical dedication to her son. Here, Ciara gives listeners a glimpse into what the album could have sounded like had she focused on artistic honesty and demonstrative emotions (whether that be anger, sadness, etc.). Instead, Jackie, lacks consistency and underwhelms when juxtaposed with her last album, Ciara, which was arguably her best since Evolution (2006).
With a proven track record to deliver hits, Ciara falls short of a home run. While the entertainer is sure to bring the tracks to life on a live stage–where she shines best–Jackie by no means stands out from the singer’s musical competition. With Rihanna and Beyoncé dominating the charts and newcomers like Tinashe conquering terrain once exclusive to Ciara, it’s hard to pinpoint where the singer now fits in the music industry. While there’s no question Ciara has it in her to redeem herself, listeners will have to wait and see. Until then, the album is appealing for what it is. Listeners want to be inspired by music–whether to dance, cry, or the like–but on Jackie Ciara, for the most part, doesn’t seem much inspired. Maybe she’ll deliver best on the next go around.
–Review by Gerren Keith Gaynor