Ciara: The Evolution
es, the spoken-word interludes—“The Evolution of Music/Dance/Fashion/C[iara]”—are silly: “Shoot, my jeans even fit a little different.” Chalk that up to Ciara’s relative youth and move on, because this is one fierce little R&B album, and it’s not just thanks to her producers.
Mind you, her producers deserve plenty of credit. Ciara’s got a murderer’s row of R&B’s top cats: Lil Jon gets two tracks, as do Polow da Don, the Neptunes, and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Dallas Austin and Jazze Pha have one apiece, as does will.i.am, whose “Get In, Fit In” is easily the worst thing on the album (dull track, uninspired instrumentation, limp production, go figure). Most acquit themselves rather nicely.
Lil Jon is the standout, though. His hip-hop production tends to sound awfully samey these days; for whatever reason, R&B seems to suit him better creatively. Opener “That’s Right” is a bangin’ start, with Jon unleashing an updated bass music groove and somewhat surprisingly exclaiming, “Ladies… tonight, it’s all about you!” The song’s about having a night out with the girls, and Ciara rides the groove as far as it’ll take her. Oh, and the bridge is a rap, no surprise—except that the rap is by Ciara, which is a bit of a surprise. Jon basically plays Puffy to her Biggie, which is splendidly fun to hear.
His other contribution, “C.R.U.S.H.,” is the album’s peak. Constructing the track with a chunk of Jive Rhythm Trax’s ‘80s electro cut “122 BPM” as its base (and adding honest-to-goodness guitar and bass to it, not just heavy keyboard programming), Jon gives Ciara a light, flirty song to sing, which she does ably. No one’s going to mistake Ciara’s voice for Whitney’s anytime soon, but her airy coo fits “C.R.U.S.H.” perfectly.
Her lower register actually sounds better as an instrument, which helps songs such as the closing “I Found Myself” succeed in spades. A lovely, straightforward ballad unlike anything else here, “Found” is based around an acoustic guitar and while featuring prominent piano and strings as well, it never falls into soupy Diane Warren territory. That’s in large part due to its composer/producer, Dallas Austin, who knows precisely how to pull this kind of thing off (e.g. TLC). Ciara’s also got enough emotion in her voice that she can imbue lines like “My ship has sailed” with just the right touch of gravitas to make it work.
The Neptunes’s “I’m Just Me” is a pretty, 808-kissed downtempo track proclaiming that C’s “just ghetto”—and she gets away with it—while their “I Proceed” is a slinky workout aching for a Fatima Robinson-choreographed dance video. “Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone” is an ode to the hood boys anchored by a pair of verses from 50 Cent, who fits the flow of Darkchild’s easy groove just right. What shouldn’t go unstated in a discussion of this album is Ciara herself; much like Aaliyah’s sophomore effort One In A Million a decade ago, Ciara: The Evolution is the sound of a babydiva starting to really find her voice.