"The Evolution" (LaFace/Zomba)
Ciara may be aiming beyond "Goodies," her hit 2004 debut album, but she never gets past the dance floor. The R&B singer's overblown sophomore collection is at its best with such highenergy numbers as "Get Up," "Make It Last Forever" and "That's Right" (featuring crunk hero Lil Jon, who produced her hit single "Goodies"). Fusing the club-shaking Dirty South style of hip-hop with Ciara's breathy exhortations, these numbers are bouncy-smooth winners.
Yet that's hardly a step forward for either Ciara or R&B-pop. For one thing, it is no sort of "evolution" to wish you could be "Like a Boy" (and therefore be caddish in matters of the heart). "The Evolution" is standard-issue, peppered with the usual guest appearances (50 Cent, Chamillionaire) and superstar producers (Pharrell Williams, Rodney Jerkins, will.i.am), not to mention the cliched use of between-track spoken-word ruminations by the singer.
The 21-year-old co-wrote every track and occasionally even personalizes things, as with the seductive ballad "Promise," reflecting on what she wants out of love. It's always good to hear a young female pop star determined to focus on her own needs, but the revelations are never startling.
The 18 tracks cleverly blend modern hip-hop and dance-music styles with old-school flavors such as disco and electrofunk, but all the sonic flash-bang can't spice up Ciara's sweetly bland voice and banal observations. Amid numerous beige ballads, the ironically robotic "Get In, Fit In" does stand out, although its anti-conformity message is couched in a lounge-y ditty that makes her sound ridiculous.
-- Natalie Nichols
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