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Album review: Ciara's 'Basic Instinct'

December 14, 2010 |  8:53 am

 
Ciara-BI-300_1 Ciara has been the most synthetic of the R&B divas over the past decade, an electro-leaning vocalist whose instrumental palate has heavily favored stark 808 beats, sassy, seductive vocal lines and, often, weird, futuristic Gary Numan-esque bleeps woven through (mostly thanks to early collaborator Jazze Pha).

Her first hit, "Goodies," was an odd little techno-funk ditty that anticipated the current wave of rave-inspired tracks from Rihanna and Lady Gaga, and though the singer, born Ciara Princess Harris, has yet to  achieve the universal fame that she claims on her new "Basic Instinct," her string of hits, though unchallenging, will make for a pleasantly entertaining greatest hits package in a few years.

Unlike Beyonce, who delivers big, anthemic bangers that can strike nerves in both welfare and soccer moms, Ciara's sights are mostly set on one aspect of said universal truth -- desire --  and how it manifests itself on the dance floor (often), at the mall (more often) or in the bedroom (most often).

"Basic Instinct" begins with a note of contrition. On "U Got Me," a humbled Ciara cops to letting success go to her head (and spending a lot of money): "I was on the red carpet when I shoulda been in the studio laying down hot [stuff]," she confesses. Humility isn't a trait often addressed in pop and R&B, and if the rest of "Basic Instinct" -- or anything else on the 11-song release -- were as honest and human, good news would lay ahead.

But she ends up back at the mall by song two, and then the bedroom, and then on the dance floor, and the cycle continues throughout as we're peppered with pre-programmed sexual boasting, party talk, and consumerist gluttony. Granted, by definition an album called  "Basic Instinct" isn't necessarily an intellectual pursuit, but unfettered hedonism can be unseemly.

Lyrically, the first single, "Gimmie Dat," makes the Black Eyed Peas seem positively Shakespearean, focused as it is on topics like beats, trunks, bumps, jammin', and, in a relatively complicated metaphor, butts as round as Georgia peaches. "Girls, get your money!" she urges in a song of the same name, an insultingly derivative variation on "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," though a song later, in "Yeah I Know," she dismisses a suiter because he's flashing his money around without regard for her true worth.

Since the lyrics don't matter, the tracks better work on the dance floor, and for the most part they do. Filled with drum machine energy, tummy rumbling bottom end and 128 beats-per-minute action -- plus the requisite few throwaway slow jams -- "Basic Instinct" offers enough android booty bass action to satisfy those who like their rhythms complicated but repetitive and hooks foreseeable from a mile away, but pleasant enough when they arrive.

There are a few gems: "You Can Get It" is a fantastic faux Prince song; and "Heavy Rotation" features a vocal melody in which Ciara spins her voice along a loop-to-loop pattern that'll stick to the sonic memory after a single listen. Her voice is so processed that it almost sounds like a synthesizer. But although though there's something to be said for placing such artifice front and center, it's hard to make love to a computer, even one willing to "turn your bed into a dance floor" and work it all night long.

-- Randall Roberts

Ciara
"Basic Instinct"
LaFace Records
One and a half stars

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