'Fantasy Ride' by Ciara
It never was much of a compliment, but Ciara used to be called the Princess of Crunk. This was back when she was a teenage R&B star, working with Lil Jon and cranking out hits like "Goodies." After an '06 sophomore outing that toyed with electro jams, Ciara spent ages in record-label purgatory before releasing the new, years-in-the-leaking "Fantasy Ride."
Ciara has a reedy, agile voice, capable of conveying the only three emotions (sexy, sassy, sad) an R&B singer needs. But she's too anonymous a personality to make herself heard over the disc's steady stream of hammy guest stars (Ludacris, Young Jeezy, Chris Brown) and overbearing producers (Danja, Dr. Luke), all of whom bring the most lukewarm vocals, sound effects and beats that early 2008 had to offer.
"Fantasy Ride" is a perfectly respectable, if not enthralling, collection of standard club bangers and slow jams that feel like an assortment of tracks Rihanna and Beyoncé didn't want. There are a few notable exceptions: Justin Timberlake does his usual futuristic smolder-y thing on "Love Sex Magic," which sounds like the best version of all the songs that sound just like it; and "Never Ever" does a nice job of sampling/interpolating Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me by Now."
But the best that can be said about The-Dream's gooey "Like a Surgeon" ("My love's like anesthesia/I'll rock you fast asleep") is that it's probably not terrible on purpose. And the mid-tempo crunk-pop track "High Price" ("I should be in Iraq, shawty, 'cause I am the bomb/I got a million-dollar house on my earlobe") may set a record for most inappropriate utterances in a single verse.
-- Allison Stewart
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Love Sex Magic," "Never Ever"