Review Summary: A sexy, spacey rollercoaster of an album.
I owe Ciara an apology. Because from the beginning, I had her marked as a failure.
2004's "Goodies" was a funky new sound that smashed into the industry, introducing the world to a fresh-faced young girl with solid dance skills and singing that was, well, mediocre at best. I thought it'd be a great single for a one-hit wonder. But today, "Goodies" is one of the strongest hip-hop dance songs in recent history, and five years later, after two passable albums and successful singles like "1,2 Step", "Oh", "Get Up", "Promise", and "Like A Boy", she's tried again and again to convince me that she's here to stay.
She's still failed.
The truth is, Fantasy Ride
was quite the ordeal, suffering from repeated pushbacks since late '08, largely due to singles that failed to lift off- "Go Girl", featuring T-Pain, was a clip from last fall that fell so flat it failed to even make the record. But "Never Ever", the official first single from Ride
, was an excellently soft, sweet and smooth track, sampling Harold Melvin's "If You Don't Know Me By Now" with a twist ("If that boy don't love you by now... He will never ever, never ever love you...") It peaked my interest, but when even that song failed to catch fire, I certainly had myself convinced I had this bitch beat.
But then! That song! That video! That ear-licking! "Hot" wasn't quite the word to describe the fiery collaboration that would come to be "Love Sex Magic". Ciara is the star of Justin Timberlake's show, quite literally: the song boasts the arrival of production group The Y's, a three-man team led by Timberlake himself, and if that wasn't enough, he co-wrote the song, too. It's a musical match made in heaven: an absolutely quirky thought of a funk and crunk electro pop hybrid, with palpable chemistry between the two stars: Ciara is flirty as hell ("Imagine if it was a million mes talking sexy to you..") and Justin returns the favor ("Grab my neck, talk sexy to me.") It's quite the show, especially with Justin's "Ooo-Ooohs!" and "Aaahs!" filling the chorus while Ciara promises to "make him believe".
She's made me believe too, and on Ciara's third album, I finally have to give into the idea that Ciara is becoming something of a real superstar. Fantasy Ride
, with all it's delays, delivers big. Ciara's five-year growth is clear throughout on her first album that is listenable in it's entirety, every song showing a completely different aspect of a girl many had pinned as a crunk star, and nothing else. Even with it's large dance feel on every track, it's still musically diverse, bold, and daring. I daresay, she's finally arrived.
"Ciara To The Stage" is a delicate slow-clap of a tune welcoming you to the ride with beautiful harps and a warning: "Don't be afraid to scream my name." And on all of the mid-tempo tracks, Ciara passes with flying colors: "Like A Surgeon" shows a sexier side, channeling Aaliyah in a good way while CiCi plays doctor ("Make sure you grab a sucker on the way out the door!"). She's heavenly on "Lover's Thing", featuring a signature The-Dream production a-la Love Vs. Money
. "Keep Dancin' On Me" is airy and relaxing, but "Tell Me What Your Name Is" is the standout- it's a monstrously spacey tune that continuously builds, while Ciara plays shy: "Never walked up to a guy... but here I go." "I Don't Remember" just crosses the finish line, an eerily light story of a drunken night: "Got the same clothes on today / That I had on yesterday / What do I do, what'd I say?"
But Ciara also knows how to give what she's known for, and on Fantasy Ride, she does it in more diverse and fantastic ways than ever before. The uptempos here are fierce: "G Is For Girl", also produced by The Ys, is a hard-hitting, spanish guitar influenced tune where CiCi takes you through the entire alphabet, literally ("H is for HOOOOLD UP!" is just one stop). "Work" featuring Missy Elliott is digital crunk at its coolest, and "Turntables" with Chris Brown is fast and furious futuristic dance pop, boasting an indian sample just crazy enough to work. "Pucker Up", on the other hand, finds Ciara in some strange Britney Spears universe: imagine "Piece Of Me", "Gimme More", and "Womanizer" all in one with an urban twist. Hip-Hop producer Rodney Jerkins ("When I Grow Up") brings more of his newfound pop flavor while Ciara dares you to kiss her "swag."
It's "High Price", however, that will be by far the most controversial song on the album. Dangerous, intense, massive, and borderline crazy, it's furious space-crunk at it's absolute limit: Ciara sounds hauntingly operatic over a chopped-and-screwed hungry rumbler of a beat produced by The-Dream, egotistical in the best way with some of the best one-liners ever ("I should be in Iraq, 'cause I am the bomb!"). The production even makes Ludacris manage to sound stranger than usual; he comes off as a little insane while delivering one of his best guest verses ever.
On Fantasy Ride
, Ciara is adventurous without losing her ghetto cool or letting her head take her from what made her popular in the first place (ahem, Sasha), carving her own niche in the music world rather than playing up the Beyonce or Janet comparisons. This marks her real arrival as both a serious talent and a serious threat, and if there's one time you decide to give her a chance, this is it. You're in for quite the ride.