Ciara’s material fails her
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.