Four songs into her new album, "The Evolution ," Ciara asks a listener "How come you're not moving?"
It seems an odd query, as it's likely that any dancers within earshot of the irresistible fuzz-synth grooves on the Neptunes-produced "I Proceed " will be shaking their tail feathers until they come off.
This joyous ode to breaking it down on the dance floor will be catnip for fans who loved predecessors like "1, 2 Step " and "Hotline ," from the crunk princess's 2004 debut, "Goodies ." With its varied vocal style and low-down bass rumble, it's also one of the few tracks that actually resemble something of an evolution for the 21-year-old singer.
The angular strings and gender-role-switching contemplations of the rousing "Like a Boy ," produced by Calvo Da Gr8 , also strike an intriguing, offbeat chord in the careworn infidelity oeuvre that is a staple of R&B.
Many of the rest of the tracks feel more like treadmill fare, fast-moving but always dragging backward.
The singer's voice is only slightly thicker than a Necco Wafer; she and her cadre of producers drop sassy club joints that spend more time reconfiguring influences (Prince, Janet and Michael Jackson, Cameo) and updating the electro-funk sound of her multiplatinum debut than breaking new ground.
But for fans of urban dance music, this little-to-no-change ethos won't feel like much of a negative once you hear a song like "Get Up ." When you're flailing about trying in vain to re-create the limber singer's fluid dance moves, it won't matter that producer Jazze Pha is essentially rewriting "1, 2 Step," right down to the bloopy keys, crunky hand claps, and guest rap -- in this case by Chamillionaire .
Ciara and her producers do a disservice to the ballads that close out the album by grouping them together after such a flurry of high-energy cuts. Tracks such as the damaged-goods lament "So Hard " and the discreetly choir-lifted "I Found Myself" feel lethargic.
Still, although populated by some painfully obvious profundities, the songs are slightly better than your average slow-jam fare.
With a helpful definition in the CD booklet, the singer reminds us that evolution is "a gradual process." While she may not have taken huge strides forward here, Ciara's still got the goodies.