CD Review of Fantasy Ride by Ciara
Ciara: Fantasy Ride
Recommended if you like
Rihanna, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson
Label
LaFace
Ciara: Fantasy Ride

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
he modern R&B landscape is lousy with one-named female vocalists, to the point that even hardcore fans of the stuff can find it confusing to keep track of them all. There’s no mistaking Beyoncé or Rihanna, of course, but beyond that lies a sea of singers – Fantasia, Ashanti, Cassie, Nivea, etc. – who flit on and off the dial depending on which name-brand producers their label deigns to hire for their latest project. Bobbing among all those names is Ciara, the Lil Jon-certified "First Lady of Crunk & B" who scored what was arguably the hit of summer 2004 with "Goodies," but has struggled to find a song with similar impact since – and whose third album, Fantasy Ride, suffered through months of label tweaking and shifting release dates before finally hitting shelves on May 5.

The end result sounds, as you might expect, like the product of an extremely large committee – both in the studio, where Ciara was joined by a bewildering array of producers and special guests, and at the label, where it must have taken an entire boardroom of former shoe salesmen to whittle the album down from its original incarnation as a sort of club concept album divided into three acts. Of course, delays and revisions aren’t unusual, especially in R&B; what sets Fantasy Ride apart – and not in a particularly good way – is the way its wildly outsized ambitions ended up being shoehorned into a piece of product that teeters between shooting for the moon and going for the lowest common denominator.

Part of the problem is that, as a vocalist, Ciara isn’t particularly noteworthy; she’s got the sort of thin, breathy approach that R&B producers seem to love because it’s easy to surround with whichever backing track happens to be lying around, but she doesn’t have the charisma to overcome her lack of power, and as a result, she’s incapable of working around the limitations of a subpar song – she rises or falls completely with the material she’s handed to record. Twenty years ago, that would have meant padding out her performances with layers of synths; today, it means stuffing her albums with special guests, and although their appearances often improve the songs, they have the unpleasant (and surely unintended) side effect of overshadowing the main performer.

This is perhaps most evident on "High Price," which should, by all rights, be a killer track – it boasts some terrifically inventive production from Tricky Stewart and The-Dream that twists Ciara’s vocals into opera territory – but the only part of the song that doesn’t evaporate the instant it leaves the speakers is the cameo from Ludacris. Though she’s pushed and pulled into some interesting places by her producers, Ciara’s never anything more than a cipher at the center of Fantasy Ride; she floats on the stronger songs, which include "G Is for Girl (A-Z)" and "Tell Me What Your Name Is," but suffocates under the weak ones, including the laughable "Like a Surgeon." There are a handful of decent singles in here, but for the most part, the album doesn’t hold together at all – Ciara and LaFace would have been better served simply doling out its better bits to digital retailers. The only thing consumers might have missed is the booklet, filled with silly pictures of Ciara dressed up in the various skintight outfits of her apparently super-powered alter ego, "Super C" – but even if you’ve got a superhero fetish, it’d be a lot cheaper, and almost certainly more entertaining, to just grab the two or three best tracks from iTunes, pick up any random issue of "X-Men," and listen while you read.

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