Nearly four years after Jackie, Ciara makes her return to music with Beauty Marks. The album marks, no pun intended, Ciara’s first release on her own entertainment imprint, Beauty Marks Entertainment. Her discography dates back a decade and a half, a timeline where special singles stand out though few albums do. At the beginning, you find “Goodies,” with its great intro, “One, Two Step,” with its great Missy moment and “Oh,” a great encapsulation of popular music in the mid ‘00s. Few other singles ever impacted with as much power, but Ciara still continued creating quality jams for the bedroom and dancefloor. “Body Party, “Love Sex Magic” and both of her Nicki Minaj collaborations demonstrate this to be true. Delving deeper into her previous release leads you to gems such as “One Woman Army” and “Dance Like We’re Making Love,” both of which should be heard more often in the wild (*the club).

Whereas the last two albums felt like steps forward, Beauty Marks feels firmly rooted in place. Trends from Prince to Jersey Club solidify Ciara’s space in the contemporary sense, producing catchy yet not entirely novel additions to her catalog. Thematically, it feels honest but not entirely personal, which would have felt quite empowering on BME’s first release from its flagship artist.

Beauty Marks is far from bad; it’s just the material often fails to reach its potential. Instead of thundering out of the gate, intro track “I Love Myself” stumbles on the first downbeat, which lands on top of Ciara’s spoken introduction. Here, even a second of pause would force pathos into her opening manifesto. Because of this, and the oddly choice to feature Macklemore, it takes until track two, “Level Up,” to get the energy flowing. Like Beauty Marks, “Level Up” excels in a few areas, particularly the pre-chorus, but not across the board.

By “Set” you start to see the album gain steam. Though the beat again cuts into Ci Ci’s opening words, at least its strings and swagger offer a bit more to work with. The way they bubble behind “big boss level” Ciara achieves the proper power you want to see from her, and using her ‘set’ as a metaphor for her resume is clever. “Girl Gang,” with the excellent inclusion of Kelly Rowland, hits the same attitude and references figures from Cyndi Lauper (“Girls just wanna have fun”) to Lauren Conrad (“He ask your favorite position/ Tell him CEO”).

A mover at heart, Ciara also blesses listeners with plenty of upbeat moments. “Freak” and “Thinking Bout You” appeal to pop’s current Afrobeat and ‘80s funk sensibilities, respectively, and they also showcase Ciara’s ability to weave between them. Similar to Beauty Marks’s other shortcomings though, neither feels much different from J-Hus and Janelle Monáe, who do the same. That said, “Thinking Bout You” worms its way into your head like the lover she pines about, and the chorus of “Freak” ends with a satisfying clobbering of percussion. The marching band-backing on “Dose” recalls pleasant visions of “Lose My Breath” but none of the latter’s originality. The other mover, “Na Na,” is equally palatable but lacks the distinctive energy of either “Lose My Breath” or “Level Up.”

Beauty Marks comes to a close as you expect it to, a piano-ballad title track. From both a sonic and subject standpoint, it follows a predictable blueprint. Jackie’s “I Got You” offers a similar ending but with a better message and melody. Not only does it this album’s closer underwhelm, but “Beauty Marks” hints at all the possibilities Ciara could have explored. Her dancing ability suggests a possible talent for electropop, while her sensual groove suits her well for jazz or bossa nova.

Though her ideas come up lacking, Ciara also sounds quite happy at this stage in her life. The woman behind Beauty Marks figured some things out, the result being a clearer view of life. This means tunes may be a little straightforward, but simplicity carries merits of its own, especially when you’re cheerful enough to appreciate it.

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