Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CD Review: The Evolution by Ciara

Two years is not a whole lot of time but in the music business, it can be. In the two-plus years since Ciara's debut single "Goodies," she's sold many albums, won a Grammy, and suffered through a public relationship (and breakup) with rapper Bow Wow. Now, she has used that whirlwind two-year period as the inspiration for her sophomore album The Evolution. Filled with many radio-ready songs produced by top hitmakers, The Evolution is a very enjoyable album even if it's not exactly as profound as it wants to be.

Considering that Ciara was slapped with the label "crunk n' b" after "Goodies," it's funny that the very first song on The Evolution, "That's Right," was produced by crunk pioneer Lil' Jon. However, this time around, Lil' Jon's beat is actually liberating rather than limiting. The song begins with Ciara saying "Every time I call he come, but it's time I think about me...and what I need" which is one of many possible references to her high-profile ex. The song itself has Ciara blowing off a night with her man to go out and have fun with her friends.

Ciara highlights the double standards in how the actions of men and women are perceived in "Like A Boy." She rattles off all the things men can get away with and wonders if she did then "would the rules change up or would they still apply." The interesting thing about this song is that Ciara doesn't sound so much angry or annoyed by the double standards so much as a little envious. "Like A Boy" does kind of make you wonder why women put up with things that men would not.

You get transported back to the 1980's on the excellent lead single "Promise." Producer Polow Da Don provides Ciara with a slinky, sexy beat that's worthy of Prince himself. The lyrics don't exactly break new territory but Ciara sounds pretty good as she coos her way through the song.

On the song "Get In, Fit In," Ciara encourages the listener to "Take a chance and try something different / Don't be scared / You might make a difference..." and she certainly does here. In style, it feels more like an electronic song than anything R & B. She adopts a robotic, monotone style for the lyrics and the "da da da" bridge. If that's not unusual enough, she follows U2's lead and bungles numbers in a foreign language (she says "one, two, three" in Japanese but messes up the "three").

While most of The Evolution is fun, uptempo music, there are a couple of times where Ciara slows things down. On "So Hard," Ciara deals with her reluctance to take her current relationship to the next level because the previous one ended so badly. She tries to move past her previous relationship but keeps comparing her man to her last one.

The album ends with "I Found Myself," a song that has her addressing her growth into adulthood, especially since Ciara turned 21 only a couple of months before this album's release. She talks not just about growing up, but also her hopes and dreams as she says "someday, I'll be the perfect wife" and looks forward to new relationships ("I'm not gonna give it up just because the last one let me down"). There is a lot of sincerity in her voice here, especially since she co-wrote this song (like she did every other song on her album).

Two things hurt The Evolution a bit. First, it's a little too long. There are 18 songs here (including interludes) and it feels like too much of a good thing. The album drags a little bit in the middle and as the songs slow down towards the end, it starts to feel pretty long. What also hurts this album a bit are the interludes. Even though they are short and serve to emphasize the theme of evolution on the album, they are unnecessary. You will skip them after the first listen, especially since the text of the interludes is printed throughout the CD booklet.

Overall, The Evolution is a very good album for Ciara. Her music is fun, catchy, and easy to like. Ciara is not exactly the best singer out there but she never tries to take her voice to places it shouldn't go and the crop of producers make her sound good.

What makes her stand out, however, is the way she handles herself. Ciara wants to have fun, have a relationship, and continue to grow as a person. She's a good girl but not a goody two-shoes. Considering that many young black women are bombarded with sexually demeaning images in hip-hop videos, Ciara's image is refreshing. While it might be a little premature to consider yourself evolved at 21, Ciara has certainly grown up. If she continues on the path she's on, she could really be a force to be reckoned with and I can't wait to see that happen.

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