“I’m a groundbreaking woman – I get loud when I wanna,” sings Ciara on this album’s third single ‘Dose’, a Darkchild-produced R&B jam with a swaggering marching band flavour. It’s a totally admirable sentiment, but one that ‘Beauty Marks’ never really lives up to: Ciara’s solid and likeable seventh album will please longtime fans, but probably won’t restore her career to its early noughties glory days, when she raced out of the gates with a trio of huge crunk-fuelled hits (‘Goodies’, ‘1, 2 Step’ and ‘Oh’).
It begins with ‘Love Myself’, a balmy self-empowerment jam on which Ciara comes off like a calmer Mary J. Blige as she sings about “no more drama”. This sets the tone for an album that’s mainly interested in self-acceptance and self-worth. “I hustle till I pass out,” Ciara boasts on the Beyoncé-esque banger ‘Set’; the title track features the slightly cheesy realisation that Ciara’s scars are, in fact, beauty marks. Hipper peers such as Solange and Kehlani have covered similar lyrical ground, but this doesn’t make Ciara’s message any less relevant at a time when Instagram is launching a mental health campaign.
Though ‘Beauty Marks’ is rarely innovative, Ciara shows a respectable amount of range throughout the record. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ is shimmering disco ear candy, ‘Girl Gang’ unites her with Kelly Rowland for a righteous girl power bop, and the electro-R&B of ‘Greatest Love’ glides and glistens stylishly. ‘Freak Me’ starts off sounding like Whitney Houston’s ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’ – a peerless production, but one that’s 20 years old – before becoming much less derivative thanks to an appearance from Nigerian artist Tekno and some sleek Afrobeat inflections. On that last track, Ciara is enough of a pro to carry off even this clunky-sounding come-on: “Turn me on like remote controller / Up and down like a roller coaster.” Um, sure.
By the time the album concludes with the saccharine piano ballad ‘Beauty Marks’, it’s hard not to feel that Ciara has earned the right to emote a little self-indulgently. This may not be a groundbreaking record, but it’s definitely one that delivers bops befitting of a woman who keeps on performing even when she’s served with court papers on stage.