[Music] Ciara – Jackie (review)

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Available to buy on iTunes

Review: In a move that would typically represent an artist’s desire to evoke an aura of maturity, the sixth studio album from R&B stalwart Ciara arrives christened with the name of her mother. But yet, in a move that would typically represent an artist’s appreciation for the plot of Freaky Friday, Jackie plays like the gum-chewing, Jell-O shot-sinking successor to 2013’s Ciara – a short, sweet and surprisingly ‘street’ ten-tracker that held the key to Cici’s hipster-R&B kudos in one hand (“Body Party”) and tasty forays into sparkling dance-pop in the other.

That record held off its Top 40-tempting behemoths (“Overdose”, “Livin’ It Up”) until the final stretch, almost as a reward for the casual fans who joined her on Ciara’s sleek, sensual narrative. Jackie, however, is content to put everything on the table. When Pitbull’s exasperated drawl treads the icy synths of “That’s How I’m Feelin’”, it’s the aural equivalent of waving a white flag from Credibility Castle. The track’s topline is regrettably Ester Dean-by-numbers, and does not even come close to matching the songwriter’s previous triumphs (“Super Bass”, “Rude Boy” et al), which is a shame considering Missy Elliott finally capitalises on the Super Bowl-induced nostalgia now synonymous with her name with a giddy contribution.

“Give Me Love” is an astoundingly generic appropriation of the Robin S. classic “Show Me Love” – although a disheartening portion of listeners are destined to recognise any similarities as analogous to Jason DeRulo’s “Don’t Wanna Go Home”. “Stuck On You”, meanwhile, with its pounding drums and speakerphone-assisted hooks (“Ain’t nothing like rolling with a Georgia peach”), is an admirable exercise in ratchet charm.

Ciara’s modest but plush soprano is given a good workout on the maternal ballad “I Got You”, and “I Bet”, an acoustic guitar-backed mid-tempo that addresses the singer’s fallout with ex-husband and collaborator Future in occasionally heartbreaking detail. But it’s the 80’s-inspired warmth of “Dance Like We’re Making Love” and “Kiss & Tell” that serve as Jackie’s most symbiotic marriages of voice and production: “Dance Like…” finds the singer breaking the word “love” down into seven syllables on a breathy staccato chorus, while the disco-lite embrace of “Kiss & Tell” captures butterflies-in-tummy anxiety over a shimmery but subtle groove. Cici goes hard on the title track, a maniacal expression of braggadocio that flits from trap to drum-and-bass nuances to arrogant twangs of electric guitar, accompanied by lyrics that are undoubtedly coming to an Instagram feed near you: “If you’d been through what I been through / Man, you’d be popping this shit, too!”

The largely jubilant nature of Jackie will most likely serve as an enjoyable change of pace for longtime fans, but it is disappointing that Ciara’s most pop-orientated record possesses such a restricted view of what pop music can be. The militant girl-power of bonus track “One Woman Army” suggests the potential for a slightly more imaginative approach to her art. Whether Ciara’s output continues to mature in reverse – or if her grandmother may want to consider a name change to spare her from future embarrassment – remains to be seen.

7/10

 

[Music] Charli XCX – Sucker (review)

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Available to buy on iTunes

Review: Giving frothy, guitar-driven power pop a semi-ironic squeeze without choking the fun out of it is 22 year-old Charlotte Aitchison, AKA Charli XCX. Sucker is her second studio album – unless you count 2008’s barely self-released debut 14, but then why would you? – and the glee with which it swaps the moody electro-fuzz of 2013’s True Romance for a raucous riot grrrl flavour is worth the price of admission alone.

Bursting out of the gate with a barrage of girly whoops, infectious new wave synths and a shriek of “Fuck you, Suckerrr!”, the title track seems to be swiped straight from the soundtrack of a late 90’s Columbia TriStar teen flick. Perhaps such connotations are unavoidable considering it was in the guise of Britney Murphy’s Clueless character that Charli was introduced to the majority of listeners alongside Iggy Azalea in the video for their ubiquitous 2014 hit “Fancy”, but if Sucker aims to convey anything other than giddy, juvenile thrills, it certainly does not show.

Even “London Queen” – which is easily the weakest track here, clocking in at under three minutes and yet still blighted by nauseating repetition – cannot help but raise a smile thanks to the unmitigated delight Charli displays at her newfound prosperity: “I never thought I’d be living in the USA / Doing things the American way […] Living the dream like a London Queen”. Fame and fortune are recurring themes, but this particular starlet isn’t one to sing at you from behind the velvet rope; “Gold Coins” and “Hanging Around” invite us to dream big, while “Famous”, with its shimmy-friendly guitar licks, treats fame as merely a state of mind: “One night, we’re gonna come and crash the party / Weren’t invited but we’re feeling so outrageous / Just like we’re famous”. It’s the way Charli tows the line between an awestruck sense of pride in her own achievements and the BFF-quality encouragement her lyrics offer that makes her the listener’s ever-reliable seatbelt on Sucker‘s musical rollercoaster.

The songwriting is extraordinarily hook-focused, but never cynical. “Boom Clap”, the dreamy party favour “Doing It” (featuring Rita Ora, who usually represents the kind of faceless chart fodder Charli rages against, but here gives the track some necessary zip) and the sweet 60’s girl group pastiche “Need Ur Love” offer reprieve from the catchy noise-pop, although these comparatively subtle moments probably won’t satiate those accusing Charli of selling out. She has been frank about her desire to appeal to young girls, and perhaps the thought of even a fraction of them growing up with a snarly ode to female agency like “Body Of My Own” on their iPods is all the credibility a project as unapologetically fun as Sucker could ever ask for.

9.0/10

[Music] Ciara – I Bet (review)

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Review: The sleek and modern R&B of Ciara’s 2013 self-titled album helped re-establish the singer as more than just the photogenic face of crunk&B’s once inescapable chart success, positioning her instead as an enduring talent – she debuted her “Goodies” all the way back in 2004 – with impeccable taste. It was the Future-assisted, hipster-approved baby-making jam “Body Party” that really set the project’s wheels into motion, and although this taster from Ciara’s sixth studio album Jackie comes courtesy of producer Harmony Samuels (Ariana Grande, Ne-Yo), it’s difficult to say Future’s presence is missed considering the track seems to address the breakdown of their relationship head-on.

The emotional impact of that maelstrom of alleged infidelity – no doubt complicated by their professional engagements and, of course, the fact that they had a son last May, also named Future – bears its teeth in “I Bet”, a nigglingly catchy mid-tempo replete with warm acoustic guitar, looped skittering drum machines and Ciara’s velvety, quivering, and at times motor-mouthed soprano. “You know it hurts your pride / But you thought the grass was greener on the other side,” she sings, prioritising a tone of curt matter-of-factness over any glib attempts at sass.

As addictive as “I Bet” may be, the track’s power is primarily fuelled by its torrid backstory, and had Ciara fronted an earlier album with it (which she may as well have with 2009’s Fantasy Ride’s syrupy “Never Ever”), we would most likely have written it off as dishearteningly pedestrian. But by keeping the vision she so brilliantly executed on Ciara in mind, “I Bet” cannot help but leave us excited for the comparably sensual and eclectic record that could be in store.

8.0/10