ersatility is overrated. Take Tiger Woods: a guy who has devoted his entire life to the sport of golf and has succeeded because of his single-minded determination. Intentions of his parents and his recent slide into mortality (thanks Nike!) aside, Woods has surpassed any reasonable expectations for the sport and has made himself a superstar in the process.
Now, take Ashlee Simpson: a girl who has devoted her entire life to becoming famous and succeeded because of her single-minded determination (read: sister’s industry contacts). Along with Jessica, Ashlee has been groomed since birth for stardom, having danced since the age of three and becoming the youngest person ever admitted into the prestigious School of American Ballet. Add an acting career and now an album to the resume and you have a burgeoning career in a variety of artistic endeavors. Which is why it should be little surprise that much of Autobiography comes off as a teenage girl learning the ropes of music, sometimes succeeding, sometimes embarrassing herself.
“You think you know me” are the lyrics that open the album, leveling the common complaint of celebrity v. public. The song goes on to metaphorically detail the journey that she’s gone through to reach the heights of stardom. It’s an age-old trope and a boring one at that, hardly helped by Simpson’s lackluster rhyming of the middle-class “stains on my t-shirt” and “I’m the biggest flirt”. It’s hardly an encouraging start, but Simpson regains her footing on the Dave Matthews/John Mayer instrumentation and half-rap of “Pieces of Me”. Here Simpson gets to stretch out a bit vocally, going from impassioned wail to innocent cooing ably.
Another obvious highlight is “Surrender” which could easily be another single (although “Love Makes the World Go Round” which lifts shamelessly from Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” might be a better choice), what with its in-your-face-attitude and gentle electronic flourishes. It could also help to introduce listeners to the hard-edged nature of the rest of the album, which “Pieces of Me” doesn’t do very well. One wonders what Simpson might do during the extended guitar solo during the anticipated video, however.
But, unlike her sister, the guitar is a major force here, underscoring the younger Simpson’s interest in artists like Steve Nicks, Pat Benatar and, the most notable influence throughout, the Pretenders. It’s this information and John Shanks production work for Michelle Branch and Melissa Etheridge that probably gives the best indication of the sound of the album.
The problem, though, is that Simpson’s album either looks directly up to or never reaches the heights of the aforementioned artists. There are some minor highlights surely. But the album ends up suffering from exactly what its first line intimates: after spending more than forty minutes with Ashlee, I feel like I don’t know her any better than I did beforehand. Instead, she sounds like she’s adopting characters and singing their songs, rather than her own. And, for a record with the name Autobiography, it seems like no bigger criticism could be leveled.