The singles market was weakest in January even in those happy times when Number 1 hits outsold model railway magazines – it’s one reason the Presley scam was successful, letting a fanbase of a little over 20,000 push their boy to the top when nobody else cared. But enterprising labels could always try their New Year luck with less necrophiliac projects. Launching a new American R&B singer, for instance. “Goodies” had already been a huge US summer hit – a proven performer, even if Petey Pablo had no profile in Britain. The LaFace and Sony execs timed their release right. Nice scheduling, high fives all round on the golf course.

At the time I was mostly relieved that it wasn’t Elvis. “Goodies” sounded just fine, but it was totally overshadowed for me by follow-up hit “Oh”, a hazy, bassy, swamp of an R&B tune with Ciara stepping through the murk with cool authority. Even the guest verse was better – a turn by the ever-dextrous Ludacris. “Oh” marked Ciara out for me in the expanding field of post-Aaliyah R&B starlets. But it’s “Goodies” that’s her only No.1*

Your opinion of “Goodies” is probably going to rest on how well you cope with the whistling kettle hook that runs through the song with no quarter given. I like it, but I don’t always like it, and I could easily see why it would infuriate someone. It also pulls Ciara up into her higher register, which she can deal with but it’s breathier and less charismatic than the lower voice she uses on “Oh” or the album’s other hit “1,2,Step”. She’s up there having to compete with the whistle and the keyboard riff in the chorus, and on “You might talk slick, tryin’ to hit”, her shrillness is fighting for space, and an assertive moment in the song feels like a struggle.

In fact the whole production seems more suited to guest rapper Petey Pablo than Ciara: his gruff, amiable, unflashy flow works fine against the whistling. And there is a lot of Pablo on the record, two full verses and plenty of background chat. The entire concept of the song – this was lost on me as a UK listener, so it doesn’t actually matter much – is that it’s an answer record to Pablo’s “Freek-A-Leek”. Pablo’s record is about him bedding a roll call of women over a Lil Jon beat (originally intended for Usher’s “Yeah”, but Pablo nicked it, and Lil Jon gave Usher a better one). Ciara’s response on “Goodies” is “not so fast, buster”.

This isn’t a bad idea for an answer song at all – Pablo’s a smooth, enjoyable rapper to listen to and “Freek-A-Leek” is catchy, but it’s pretty charmless in tone. The concept that as soon as this lothario’s on a track with an actual woman she shuts him down is a strong one. Pablo plays along – rapping in the persona of an overconfident player but with little glimpses of insecurity in there too (“Ask anybody”). Ciara’s dismissal is firm but it isn’t mean.

But “Goodies” still doesn’t rise above good-ish, though there are enough ideas that almost work – the beat; the scenario; Ciara’s singing – that I end up liking the whole thing anyway, even if it’s not as much as I want. It’s ironic to criticise the track for a lack of chemistry between the leads, but I do think that’s the problem here. If you’re framing the song as a duet, and Pablo is so prominent it’s hard not to take it as one, there needs to be some kind of connection even if that’s going against what the track actually means. Without it, the lid on the goodie jar isn’t just closed, it’s stuck.

*It’s hard to say if she could have had more. Ciara, more than any other singer, is the star I associate with the extraordinarily frustrating leaks era of R&B in the late 00s: tracks unofficially dripfed to fans and media, surfacing in forum threads or briefly flaring up on the blogs, with nothing ever quite getting the wider heat to trigger an actual release, leaving major talents in a limbo of scrapped albums and direction changes. Or at least that’s what it looked like from the outside. At least Ciara had a career, and the best of her hits – “Oh”, “Work”, “Body Party”, “Level Up” – are terrific.

Score: 6

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