CiaraIf Ciara were a cat she’d definitely be on her ninth life by now. After massive success, a number one no less with “Goodies” in 2004, and also responsibility for pioneering a music craze with krunk, further long term success, which she has tried commendably hard to achieve, has all but eluded her. A surprisingly prolific artist she has been gone from one record label to another, seen release dates pushed forward to the point of exhaustion for all concerned and promoted incredible singles online which then never got to see the light of day. This, her self-titled fifth album, is her best since her debut and is certainly her strongest set of songs to date and as I’m actually holding it in my hands I can confirm that does in fact really exist.

Over an economical ten tracks, a wise decision maybe, Ciara still plays around with what could be considered as her signature and most weird sound of all; moody, skeletal soundscapes which are slowed down, sped up again and demonstrated best on the spacey and drunken “Keep on Lookin’” and the buzz and drama of “Super Turnt Up”. The current single “I’m Out” plays to current r’n’b trends with its rapid handclaps and Nicki Minaj feature and is a decent, if derivative, attempt at a ladies anthem, Minaj being on good form especially here with her explanation of the consequences of having a big bottom being particularly to the point and hilarious.

It’s on the perfectly formed playful slabs of pop r’n’b however, the likes of which haven’t been heard since the golden days of 2001 (Christina Milan “AM to the PM”, J-Lo “Play”, Mya “Case of the Ex”), that really pushes the quality skyward and potentially places Ciara in a very powerful position again. “Livin’ It Up”, again featuring Minaj, but unnecessarily on this occasion, is a funky, breezy and just so easy blast of pure, feel-good adrenaline and on the even better “Overdose”, which must refer to the amounts of hooks contained within it, Ciara has never sounded so self-assured. The Rodney Jerkins plip-plopping drum machine-dominated “Read My Lips” doesn’t quite scale these heights but it comes a close second and is beautifully sweet sound whilst being hysterically pornographic lyrically.

It’s hard to say where this will take Ciara; the slow jam of the predictably sensual “Body Party”, also featured here in a more interesting slow/fast trap remix, has already featured on the US Billboard charts and she is now a smooth and capable performer; her determination and ambition cannot be faulted. R’n’b in 2013 is still a confused genre but Ciara has remained a constant for coming up to a decade now and the overall strength of “Ciara” combined with the oh so necessary go-hard marketing could see her propelled her back into the limelight, her natural home surely? Let’s certainly hope so.