Everyone loves an underdog. Everyone loves a superstar. But almost no one’s got love for an underdog superstar.

That’s about how I’d describe Ciara, the 23-year-old R&B sensation responsible for eight top ten singles and roughly ten million albums sold in just five years. Still, despite an impressive chart record and a lasting presence in the industry, the songstress continues to face the crippling blow of the shadow–that dreaded, overbearing presence brought upon by enough comparisons to her contemporaries to recall the bubble-gum blonde diva duels of the ’90’s (Willa Ford, you will be missed). And while her latest outing, Fantasy Ride, will likely provide no help in separating CiCi from RiRi (and I dare say, from Beysus), it’s worthy enough to merit attention in its own right.

On paper alone, the album already reads like a smash: From Missy Elliot to Darkchild, Dr. Luke to Danja, Ludacris to T-Pain, The Clutch and Chris Brown (gasp, boo, hiss, etc.), the girl’s simply got it written in the stars (well, by the stars, for that matter). But as you might have expected from such an expansive guest list, the music gets a bit messy sometimes. In fact, the only thing keeping this Ride from complete lift-off is the noisy overproduction on almost every track.

Still, much of the album’s got the grit to inspire more than just a little sweat: The Missy Misdemeanor-fueled “Work” and the super swagged “Pucker Up” are the purest definitions of club bangers, while “G Is For Girl (A-Z)” promises to be C’s best attempt at ‘tude yet: “N is for nothing, boy I do this in my sleep / O is for original, cause I’mma O.G.” She’s not nearly “gangsta” enough for me to buy the act, but with that crunchy clang-a-lang beat, I don’t really care if she’s as hood as Asher Roth.

As we’ve gathered from the excellence that was “The Promise” off her last album, C knows how to command a ballad. Well. With an Aaliyah-like disjointedness, she tip-toes along “Like A Surgeon,” floats all over the lush mid-tempo chill of “Keep Dancin’ On Me,” and swoons atop the fluttery “Lover’s Thing”–all while making sure to obey the restrictions of her vocal capacity.

The momentum doesn’t entirely hold: Though the general public may disagree, the insipidity of current smash “Love, Sex, & Magic” fails to inspire any joy on my end, while the sleepy “Never Ever” (which samples 1972 Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”) quickly stalls after the chorus fades for the first time.

Fantasy Ride isn’t quite the stuff of fantasies, nor is smooth sailing throughout. But with a hot string of floor burners and some truly killer baby makin’ grinders, it’s probably one of the better trips I’ve taken this year.

PS: Make sure you’re getting the deluxe editions when you order–“Echo” and “I’m On” are highlights, and leaving them off of the original tracklisting was a criminal decision!


Ciara’s Fantasy Ride was released on Jive Records on May 5. Click below to preview and purchase NOW!
Ciara - Fantasy Ride (Deluxe Version)