Ciara’s ma­te­rial fails her

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - By Ger­rick Kennedy ger­rick.kennedy@la­times.com Twit­ter: @ger­rick­kennedy

Ciara is at an im­passe. An R&B siren whose in­tro­duc­tion to lis­ten­ers came through the stereo-rat­tling thumpers of 2004’s “Good­ies,” Ciara has pushed out enough sweat-in­duc­ing grooves to score the per­fect club or gym playlist.

Her breathy, sen­sual voice paired with in­tense chore­og­ra­phy po­si­tioned her as the clos­est thing to the next Janet Jack­son as we’ll ever get. And yet she’s never quite man­aged to be­come a stand­out in the pop con­ver­sa­tion.

Some say she’s stayed on the edges be­cause she doesn’t in­dulge in provoca­tive be­hav­ior that courts gos­sip sites. Oth­ers say her voice isn’t as elas­tic as her slinky, high-oc­tane danc­ing, which makes her a sin­gu­lar per­former.

But what’s truly held her back is the ma­te­rial she’s been handed. Her Club Nokia per­for­mance Satur­day was proof.

The tour, which is her first head­liner out­ing in six years, is in sup­port of her lat­est al­bum, “Jackie,” which de­spite its prom­ise as her most per­sonal of­fer­ing does lit­tle to serve her strengths or of­fer in­sight into who she re­ally is.

Satur­day evening’s con­cert was ex­actly how you should ex­pe­ri­ence a Ciara show: In a club, where you can sweat along with her as she pow­ers through one ac­ro­batic rou­tine af­ter an­other.

Frothy, feel-good party mu­sic and sup­ple bed­room knock­ers are a spe­cialty — “1,2, Step,” “Ride” and “Body Party” among her great­est — and when she di­als up R&B and hip-hop grooves she rides the beats as if they are me­chan­i­cal bulls pow­ered by drum ma­chines. It’s what makes her live show­ings a lit­eral work­out as she rolls, splits and slides across the stage with pre­ci­sion.

She popped along to Kanye West’s roar­ing “All Day.” And in an R-rated lap­dance for one dis­be­liev­ing fan to “Body Party,” she did more with three chairs in one rou- tine than most of her peers could pull off with mil­lion­dol­lar arena pizazz.

But where Ciara con­tin­ued to go wrong is push­ing into syrupy pop ter­rain.

Re­cent al­bums have seen her ex­per­i­ment with more elec­tronic tex­tures, to var­ied re­sults. Like the many R&Bpop singers im­mers­ing them­selves in pul­sat­ing synths, the move feels more like a bid to stay afloat.

And that’s the prob­lem with her lat­est record, es­pe­cially generic party starter “That’s How I’m Feel­ing.”

Not that R&B grooves with synth-driven spark can’t work for her. On the new al­bum, two of the strong­est songs — and con­cert high­lights — were Dr. Luke pro­duc­tions, “Lul­laby” and “Dance Like We’re Mak­ing Love.” The lat­ter feels like an un­de­ni­able hit in wait­ing. Ciara op­er­ates best, both on­stage and on record, when she’s mak­ing us dance.

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