Album of the week: Ciara

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 5:05pm


4 and a half stars

Ciara sings as if singing were dancing. She stretches syllables out into long arcs. She accelerates then decelerates. She's almost never staccato, moving fluidly from one word to the next and then through.

In an era when R&B flirts so heavily with mainstream dance music, relying on direct four-on-the-floor antigroove, Ciara's music is refreshingly slinky. All of her movement is between the beat, behind the beat, around the beat - almost anywhere but directly on it.

That makes her one of the most liquid and malleable contemporary R&B singers, but also the most anonymous. Her new self-titled album, her fifth, is one of the most convincing R&B albums of the year.

In this album she's in lock step with the production, which is vivid, full of vibrating bass and sirens and ghostly aftereffects. These are dense songs, and Ciara wiggles through them with verve, if not personality. She even allows Nicki Minaj to have a verse on her album before she delivers one of her own. (Minaj appears twice on this album, her tartness and ferocity a sun streak across Ciara's empty sky.)

A groove-focused vocalist often content to melt into the beat, Ciara may be the truest inheritor of Aaliyah's legacy in modern R&B (except for Drake, though that's a more complicated heritage). But they are different kinds of ciphers. While Aaliyah appeared as if she were hiding things she'd never let you learn, Ciara doesn't appear to be hiding much of anything at all. She comes by her blankness honestly.

There's no pain in her voice, and no lust. And for what it's worth, no church either, something she shares with Rihanna, although Rihanna at least sounds as if she knows what church is, but would never ever be caught there. Ciara's voice is clean and without texture, as if it were generated by computer.

Jon Caramanica (The New York Times)