- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Ashlee Simpson

Autobiography

Geffen Records

There is nothing original about Ashlee Simpson’s debut album, “Autobiography.” Her sugary pop rock adds nothing new to the genre, drawing on the likes of Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, Avril Lavigne — and even possibly her sister, the elder top-40 queen Jessica. In fact, when compared to the current reigning crop of rocker divas, the younger Miss Simpson under-performs.

Her lyrical obsessions are familiar to anyone who has turned on a radio in the last decade. Miss Simpson is enamored with mixed-message feminism (“I’m the sexy girl in this crazy world… And I’m the biggest flirt,” she sings on the album’s title track). On “LaLa,” she sings about a boy who has awakened her both emotionally (“I think of you and everything’s alright”) and sexually (“You make me want to la la, on the kitchen on the floor?”), and of loneliness (“My broken heart just has no use”) on “Love Make the World Go Round.”

So what is it that makes Ashlee Simpson irresistible in a type of guilty-pleasure that’s all her own? And why has “Autobiography” debuted as Billboard’s No. 1 album, something that maiden releases by Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and even Jennifer Lopez never did?

The accolades belong entirely to MTV.

The network that first created reality TV has moved the idea one step forward. Call it reality music — a multimedia experience that transcends chords and lyrics, responding to that need of listeners for things like liner notes and gossip articles.

MTV introduced “The Ashlee Simpson Show” this year following the success of Jessica Simpson’s “Newlyweds,” now in its third season. However, rather than chronicling nuptial bliss, the younger Simpson’s show is about making music. And following her adventures further piques our curiosity.

The upshot of all this is that listening to “Autobiography” becomes a new kind of musical experience. On “Shadow,” when Miss Simpson sings about “Living in the shadow/Of somebody else’s dream,” she need not evoke vivid imagery for us to know whose dream she’s speaking of: the girl whose dream has cast a shadow over Ashlee’s life — you know, the girl from that reality show who doesn’t mind being flatulent in front of her singer-husband and friends, and who famously mistook tuna for chicken.

Elsewhere, on “Pieces of Me,” when Miss Simpson intones “?With you I fall so fast / I can hardly catch my breath,” the words aren’t just any musings about young love. They’re her musings, and we know who she’s talking about here as well — the punk-cutie-boy Ryan who didn’t get her a card on Valentine’s Day.

MTV’s genius is to beat fans to the punch. Before you’re ever curious about the woman behind the music, MTV introduces you to the woman. “Autobiography” is fun because of what it tells you about Ashlee. Her underdog story is perfectly American, making her someone worth rooting for. It doesn’t hurt, either, that her music is decently fun —thanks, in part, to her producer, John Shanks, who’s done good things for a good batch of moody females, from Miss Morissette to Sheryl Crow.

At the same time, following Ashlee Simpson’s adolescence — which ends with her 20th birthday Oct. 3 — is about as fun as going through the process yourself. At first you’re moved, and everything means so much. But then you realize you’re also depressed and angry and wonder why anything matters at all.

On the other hand, life in Ashlee’s world is sometimes exciting (witness “Autobiography’s” upbeat “LaLa.”). But if endured too long, it becomes oppressively over-felt and achingly unreasonable.

Luckily, though, unlike adolescence, “Autobiography” only has to last as long as you keep it playing.

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