Album Review: Jackie by Ciara

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One of the sweetest things you can do as a pop star is to name your album after your mother, and also dedicate a song in her honor. If this song doubles as an ode to being a bad mother fucker (BMF), then it’s twice as sweet because to be a BMF is to stand beside women who anoint themselves as bad bitches who rule, or something. And lately, in pop music, no one who has called herself a Bad Bitch (or just a plain bitch) ever meant it as a pejorative. It’s a sweet gesture in almost the same way that having your toddler sing a bridge in one of your album’s tracks is sweet. Whether Jackie, Ciara’s mom is also a bad MF, one can only guess.

Given Ciara’s newfound knack for dropping MF-bombs in the first track, you would think she is presenting a ‘new her’ or, perhaps, unleashing to the world her ‘most personal body of work yet’, but she isn’t. She named her album “Jackie” because she is now a mommy who is trying to see through the eyes of Jackie, ‘it’s that simple’. This lack of grandiose statements about heightened artistry, not to mention the thoughtfulness, is much appreciated.

In what is shaping up to be the year of the breakup anthem, her first single “I Bet” is an unmissable contribution to the cannon. The track is biting, sharp, and laced with pointed barbs about an ex who did her wrong. A *grander* pop star would probably cause greater commotion and entertain the general public for a few days with some sort of guessing game, but Ciara is not into that non-sense. Unlike certain recent exquisitely shady heartbreak slow jams, “I Bet” leaves little to the imagination. Given the specificity in the way it pillages its object of scorn, no one is left scratching his head in bewilderment. This song is the equivalent of seeing your former boo holding hands with someone new at the mall, lunging at them and explaining to the apprehending security staff that this ho with the ‘silicone ass’ and the ‘Brazilian hair’ stole your man and you’re just exacting revenge (Okay, it’s only similar in theme but different in execution) in all your one woman army glory. Cici could learn a thing or two about the subtle art of shading an ex, but she nevertheless brings to her own shady party the kind of emotion never heard before from her. Although she doesn’t say it, this probably truly is her most personal musical moment yet.

So far, BMF and heartbroken are good looks on Ciara (which is not to say that we wish more disappointments befall her), but she is not content to show just these sides. Harkening back to some truly bright spots in her career, Ciara conjures the glory of the not-too-distant past. “Lullabye” is, in fact, not a song for her baby (standard album closer “I Got You” is it), but a sexy update to “Click Flash”, a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it non-album cut. Missy Elliott makes a welcome but otherwise quick appearance on “That’s How I’m Feelin'” (together with Pitbull) and from there, the album just goes in all sorts of direction, in both sound and narrative. She gets inspirational in “Fly”, lovelorn in “Give Me Love”, bossy and domineering in “One Woman Army”, and then back to BMF.

Wildly fluctuating themes aside, there are plenty to enjoy in the album. “Fly” has almost all the elements that made her underappreciated singles soar – a hint of percussion and popping beats in the vein of ‘promotional’ single “Got Me Good”. Producer Dr. Luke is responsible for several of the albums highlights which include second single “Dance While We’re Making Love” which is both danceable and baby-makeable.

The mystery behind the lack of success of should-be smashes like “Overdose” and “Livin’ It Up” (which did not need a Nicki Minaj verse) from album #5 will probably remain a head-scratcher for years to come. Sadly, that exact same fate might be suffered by the album’s real gem, Jackie’s strength, “Kiss & Tell” which has a bouncy, mellow groove that’s equal parts flirty and coy. It’s the kind of song that clever people on social media would attach the JusticeFor hashtag, sometimes in jest, sometimes in earnest.

Even without a solid theme, we’re not super mad at Ciara for randomly tossing a mix of middling, good and great songs in an album that teased about the deep stuff (motherhood, heartbreak, and maybe also dancing). We don’t listen to Ciara albums looking for a glimpse to her tarnished soul (having just been cheated on), but what’s inexcusable is the tucking in of forgettable tracks “All Good” and “Only One”, together with the token song for the sweet little baby “I Got You”. Their role as album fillers is evident by their being squeezed in between highlights “Kiss & Tell” and “One Woman Army”.

Discussion of Ciara’s work inevitably brings up the subject of her voice’s alleged averageness and where she stands in the pop diva ladder (let’s not even act like this doesn’t exist!). Not a single Saturday Night Love or Mad TV episode has ever been devoted to parodying her voice or mocking an era in her career that’s perceived as a flop. Zero complaints have been lodged against her for influencing the next generation of pop vocalists’ corruption. No one has ever remarked that her ‘highly unique voice’ is to blame for the way younger singers dabble in excessive vocal flourishes. In Jackie, Ciara’s voice is in fine form and we are even seeing and hearing glimpses of real emotions peaking through slick, beat-driven songs. It’s hard to imagine whether Ciara is bothered by these. As a multi-faceted, sonics-juggling, self-confessed BMF, it’s comforting to think that she probably isn’t.

Grade:

75/97

 

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