Ashlee's 'World': Overpopulated And Empty

(Geffen - Umd)
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By Allison Stewart
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Let's get it out of the way: Fall Out Boy leader Pete Wentz does not appear on his fiancee Ashlee Simpson's third disc, "Bittersweet World." But know this: During its worst moments, you will actually miss him.

"Bittersweet World" appears to have been sewn together from random bits of flotsam -- last year's high-powered producers, slumming artistes (why, Santogold, why?), assorted vocal tics and pages from the Delia catalogue.

It's possible for an artist to suffer from an excess of producers and a lack of ideas and still be entertaining (see: Stefani, Gwen). But "Bittersweet World" feels reactive and very, very empty, as if it swung at every passing trend and missed. "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)" is an attempt at '80s synth-pop that winds up cribbing its melody from Men at Work; "Rule Breaker" poaches the pompom pop of Simpson's far less appealing hoodie rock rival, Avril Lavigne; as for the weirdly talky club track "Hot Stuff," well, who knows what they were thinking?

Throughout, Simpson continues to stake out her territory as the "dangerous" Simpson, the perpetually misunderstood food court rebel ("I just want to color outside the lines/I've been reprimanded 'bout a thousand times") with a single-mindedness that's off-putting, and odd. Unlike her sister Jessica, whose lovely and badly used voice suggests consistently thwarted potential, the lucky circumstances of Ashlee's career leave little room for anyone over the age of 12 -- and maybe not even then -- to relate to her exaggerated sense of grievance, let alone to root for her.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "What I've Become," "Never Dream Alone"

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