I Am Me
y favorite stand-alone moment on Ashlee Simpson’s sophomore album arrives near the disc’s mid-point, about twenty seconds into a song called “Coming Back for More.” Over a rather bright, pleasant-sounding riff, Ashlee admits, “Got myself to blame / For all my bad moods / And I really wish that I didn’t feel this way / I wanna break the circle but the circle won’t break.” It’s not poetry, granted, but that’s also the point. However dumb the line, and in particular that last bit (about The Circle), may inevitably appear in print, it sounds, in context, less like some rough stab at profundity, or even introspection, than, simply, a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum. It’s great. Really. It’s the sort of moment that reminds me why I can’t help but love Ashlee—and why plenty of other people can’t stand her.
I really shouldn’t blame the haters, or begrudge them their cheap shots, but, frankly, I kind of do. My suspicion is due, in part, to the fact that Ashlee’s actual recorded output is rarely the first, second, or even third reason I hear as to why she supposedly sucks. (For the record: 1) She lip-synched on Saturday Night Live; 2a) She’s Jessica Simpson’s little sister / 2b) She’s annoying on her tv show; 3) She’s a “poser” [with any number of claims asserting what exactly she’s “posing” as].) The above responses, while possibly, technically true, seem to me to be missing the bottom line entirely.
Ashlee, against some staggering odds, managed to make a really good record in Autobiography—and now she’s pulled off a more-than-respectable, if mildly spottier, follow-up. The debut is, front to back, a near-perfect collection of songs. The tracks I loved from the get-go sound just as good a year later; the stuff I’d pegged as filler initially, I’ve come around on in the meantime. I’d be tempted to call it a minor classic, largely just because I can see myself still wanting to hear it, say, ten years from now.
Even allowing for some possible growers, I Am Me isn’t as consistently strong a record as Autobiography. Still, it would score comfortably within the upper-tenth percentile or so among sophomore albums, for two important, symbiotic reasons. The first is that Ashlee doesn’t seem averse to tweaking the formula that made her debut a huge commercial (if not critical) success; she tries some new things here and mostly succeeds. The second is that she never embarrasses herself. Admittedly, after the SNL debacle (to which Ashlee devotes a track on I Am Me), it would take real effort to fall much harder on her ass. Consequently, the album’s most significant triumph may be the simple fact that Ashlee weathered the press lashing, brushed her shoulders off, and got back on the pony.
At the very least, it suggests that Ashlee the Recording Artist may yet outlive Ashlee the Reality TV Star. As further evidence, the peaks on the new album are as high, or higher, as those on Autobiography. “Boyfriend” is not only a more representative lead-off single than “Pieces of Me,” but a better one, too. The Gwen Stefani-ish “L.O.V.E.” trumps “Lala.” Ashlee’s Courtney Love impersonation is throatier, and more convincing, on “I Am Me” than it was on the first album’s title track. Two of the ballads (“Beautifully Broken” and “Catch Me When I Fall”) are legitimately pretty, while the rest are, at worst, minimally-insipid MOR-pop. The above-mentioned “Coming Back for More,” for my money, finishes just shy of “Love Me for Me” as Ashlee’s finest track to date.
My sole disappointment here (and I’m clearly grasping) is merely that “Burnin’ Up” isn’t a Madonna cover, since when I caught her live last year, Ashlee delivered a surprisingly terrific version of the Madge classic (along with, notably, Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” and “Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders). (They could’ve at least been kind enough to include it on the bonus DVD.) Otherwise, this is a very good record. I personally dare the “ASHLEE SUX” folks reading this to give it a reasonably objective spin.
Or not. Their loss. Girl’s already got her Rolex.