On the final track of Ciara’s sixth studio LP, Jackie, the new mom coos about cynicism to her infant son, Future Zahir Wilburn. “This world can put a hole in your soul,” she warns on the schmaltzy “I Got You,” which was written by Diane Warren. Bookending a high-energy album that mostly finds Ciara proving that MILF does a body good, this closer could easily feel dismissible — like one of those righteous, inspirational tracks that tend to follow 64 minutes of sin on hip hop albums. But it’s not so out-of-place once you consider Jackie’s full arc.
The album’s opening stanza pays homage to Ciara’s own mother — for whom the LP is named — and reflects on the OG wisdom CiCi received. The bumps she had to experience on her own. Lessons learned the hard way. And there were many in these past two years since releasing her eponymous fifth album. She was engaged to rapper and serial baby mama maker Future, gave birth to their first child and called off her engagement three months later, allegedly due to her fiancé’s infidelity. Through it all, the 29-year-old star emerges stronger and wiser on Jackie. “The whole inspiration behind the title, naming it after my mom, is that I can now see the world through her eyes,” Ciara told Rolling Stone last month. “From pre-baby to post-baby, there's a big difference.”
Sure, the shoe is on the other foot, but they’re still dancing shoes. And Ciara is intent on shaking what her mama gave her. There are no tear-soaked lyric sheets or ballads that tug at heartstrings here. Granted, Ciara has never been a from-the-gut powerhouse singer like Jazmine Sullivan, who could sneeze out a song with more soul and sorrow than anything on Jackie. But maybe that’s the point. Here, Ciara isn’t curled up on the couch watching Love Jones and sobbing into a pint carton of Ben & Jerry’s. She shows her strength, and plays to it, too, by focusing on the fun and flirty vibes on which she’s built her 12-year career.
The Harmony Samuels-produced opener and title track “Jackie (B.M.F.)” sets the tone: Ciara boasts about birthing a nine-pound, 10-ounce baby, concluding that she’s “a bad motherf**ker.” It’s a clear descendant of Beyoncé’s “***Flawless” — from the cackles to the hubris (“Yeah I'm that b***h, like it or not”) to the raucous instrumental — but that influence makes it no less potent. From there, Ciara is on to the next one. She lays down demands for, um, future suitors on the militant “One Woman Army,” a previously shelved song originally slotted as the title track of her fifth album — it’ll be the record that takes spin classes into overdrive. “Dance Like We’re Making Love” is the type of horny heater that might inspire some bad decisions in a dim nightclub given the right (or wrong?) number of Henny shots. That progresses into the seductive “Lullaby,” which begins with toddler chimes but is far more concerned with what happens after the baby is fast asleep: “I don't mind being your freak / I'mma knock ya, knock ya out, you ain't gotta count no sheep / I'mma go sing you a song / Baby, you could sing along / It go something just like la-la-la-la, ain't got nothing on,” Ciara coos.
But there’s still housekeeping to be done. Ciara plays petty cake with her exed-out ex-fiancé on “I Bet,” a diluted update on Bey’s “Irreplaceable.” It’s one of the album’s few raw moments that, while stinging, feels a bit numb. “You acting like you upgraded me, I upgraded you,” she sings, with the help of gentle acoustic strings and background vocals by Theron Thomas of Rock City, whose ad-libs caricature Future the same way Mariah visually mocked Eminem in her “Obsessed” video. It’s an honest, relatable song, but it leaves you wishing for a Kelis “Caught Out There” spazz out. Instead we get a fully at ease Ciara on the rousing “Fly,” insisting that both her and a former lover should find happiness elsewhere. It’s basically the definition of unbothered.
The fast-paced project hits some speedbumps, though. Musically, Jackie can feel a bit scatterbrained, channeling ’80s vibes (“Kiss & Tell”) and ’90s R&B, elsewhere veering into house and pop. “Give Me Love” sounds like a fist-pumping relic from the electronic dance music wave that peaked (and subsequently collapsed) three years ago. The aforementioned “Lullaby” captures that midtempo sweet spot that Goodies-era fans initially embraced, but Ciara sets her sights on Top 40 perhaps too often (see: “Only One,” “Fly”). And obvious second single “That’s How I’m Feelin’” is inexplicably tainted by a Pitbull verse that interrupts Ciara and Missy Elliott’s untouchable chemistry. The record has the feel of a ladies anthem — don’t be surprised if Nicki Minaj and/or Tink hop on the remix.
Despite occasional missteps, Jackie is a solid bounce back that skips sad songs and focuses on keeping you dancing, horizontally and otherwise.
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(Photo: Epic Records)