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Album Review

Ciara needs to stay in the groove

May 4, 2009
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R&B
Ciara Fantasy Ride
Laface
ESSENTIAL "Work"

Why do the party girls always want to be divas?

Ciara's best songs have always been dance jams that exploit her breathy vocals on record and breathtaking moves on video. See: "Goodies," "1, 2, Step," "I Proceed."

On her third release, the queen of the club wastes way too much time trying to convince the listener that she's some kind of chanteuse. Songs like the droning, hook-free "Like a Surgeon" - not an A-game effort for songwriting team Tricky and The-Dream - and "Never Ever," which lazily bites the entire chorus melody of the soul classic "If You Don't Know Me By Now," only expose how thin Ciara's voice really is. Exacerbating the problem is the bloodless, mechanized production that make expressions of emotion oddly chilly and robotic.

Like most contemporary R&B records, "Fantasy Ride" is loaded with guests, some of whom shine (The-Dream is dreamy as a duet partner on "Lover's Thing"), while others can't find their glow (Justin Timberlake coasts through the Prince knock-off "Love Sex Magic" and Young Jeezy massacres "Never Ever" with his whiny growl).

When she puts the emphasis back on the groove, which is about half the album, however, Ciara soars. Reteaming with Missy Elliott - the best of the album's costars - for "Work," Ciara takes her own advice to "put some snap into it" and nimbly navigates synth bleats and burps and a shake-and-shimmy beat. The sassy "Pucker Up" puts her penchant for swirling keyboard washes to funky use. And "G Is for Girl (A-Z)" is a slinky, funny stroll through the alphabet that illustrates the many types of girl power. (Out tomorrow) SARAH RODMAN