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Ciara: The Evolution 

(LaFace)

Forget evolution -- survival is all we could've expected from Ciara a year ago, when she debuted with "Goodies," a monster hit that might well have been her last. But there's no denying the former crunk & B princess has matured to the point that she's all but renounced her crown. Sure, Lil' Jon, who put Ciara on the map, contributes a couple more goodies to her sophomore outing. But it's all the R&B-lite balladry that shows Ciara is attempting to trade the clubs for the lofty mainstream peaks occupied by the one-named elite: Janet, Aaliyah, et al.

This strategy poses two problems: First off, the slow jams on The Evolution feel much like Ciara's voice: pretty -- and pretty insubstantial. Second, the dance-floor-friendly descendants of "Goodies" -- even the really good ones -- simply pilfer '80s club music. Without the "Joy and Pain" drum loop or the Rockwell hook, "Make It Last Forever" and "Get Up" would have no reason to exist. That leaves us with the spoken interludes, "life lessons" from a 21-year-old pop star. 'Nuff said.

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