After weeks of living a lie, the time has come to kick my way out of closet. Yes bitches, I'm finally ready to admit to the world that I am an Ashlee Simpson fan. Sweet baby Jesus, give me courage! I'm sure some of you will be appalled by my shocking confession but there's really no need to stage an intervention. I know how shit she is and I simply don't care. I've always thought that charisma and vocal talent were highly overrated qualities in a pop star and Ashlee proves me right with her stunning new album. "Bittersweet World" has renewed my waning faith in American pop music and (temporarily) disproves my theory that Timbaland is the spawn of Satan, brought forth from the depths of hell to strip our favourite divas of all their remaining dignity. Most importantly, the poster child for natural beauty and artistic integrity has singlehandedly brought the fun back to popular music with her trashy batch of pop gems. I feel like a new man since humbly opening my heart to dear Ashlee and I implore you to welcome this beacon of light into your own life!
I've enjoyed the occasional single over the years ("Pieces Of Me" and "Boyfriend" come to mind) but I never really paid much attention to Ashlee the popstar. I wanted to like her given my penchant for craptastic celebrity siblings with plastic surgery addictions (hello Dannii & La Toya!) but the majority of her songs belong in the same waste disposal unit as Avril Lavigne's entire back catalogue. Needless to say, I was more than a bit surprised when the first single from "Bittersweet World" turned out to be very good indeed. "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)" reinvents Ashlee as the poor man's Gwen Stefani, which I'm sure you'll agree is a huge improvement! Sounding like a cross between Soft Cell and Devo, Timbaland has crafted one of the year's catchiest pop tunes. As much as I enjoy the album's first single, I only decided to buy "Bittersweet World" after randomly hearing "Boys" at the supermarket! I know I say it in every second post but this could well be my favourite song of 2008. People Magazine describes "Boys" as "the best Kylie Minogue song that Kylie never did" and I see the likeness. The playful lyrics and addictive chorus wouldn't be out of place on "X" but I think the obvious influence is Blondie. I love the warmth of the instrumentation and the production is just exquisite. Chad Hugo (the other half of The Neptunes) and Kenna camouflage Ashlee's glorious reed thin voice perfectly, making her sound like a new woman. Fuck off, haters - this is flawless pop!
The rest of the album isn't too bad either. The experimentation continues with the quirky "Rule Breaker", a cute anthem about Ashlee's naughty ways. Timbland throws in a multitude of catchy hooks and the unconvincing lyrics are downright amusing. I just don't buy Ashlee as a bad girl. I'm guessing the most rebellious thing she's done lately is using Pete's hair iron as a dildo. After a hugely innovative beginning, "Bittersweet World" settles into more familiar territory with "No Time For Tears". Strangely, it doesn't suck. In fact,this crunchy mix of guitars and beats is probably my second favourite song on the album. I love the uplifting chorus and the lyrics appeal to me. The album's first real misstep is the ill advised second single. "Little Miss Obsessive" just sounds like every other mid-tempo slice of soft rock on American radio. It's not awful, just generic and uninspired. Thankfully, the same can't be said about "Ragdoll" and the album's title track. I have so much more time for Timbaland when he tries to breathe new life into an artist's existing style (ie. Nelly Furtado) as opposed to carelessly throwing them onto his conveyor belt of lifeless urban pop (ie. Madonna). "Ragdoll" takes Ashlee's rock sound and freshens it up with layers of beats, while "Bittersweet World" adds an element of Madness inspired ska into the mix. Both sound completely different to Ashlee's usual output without turning her into something she's not.
"What I've Become" is one of the more personal songs on "Bittersweet World". Ashlee sings "it's so strange that all these blessings could be a curse", making this an obvious response to all the disgusting haters who ridicule her every move. Keep your chin up, my sweet cherub! "What I've Become" is also of note as the most straightforward rock track that Timbland has ever produced. Things get a little crazy from here on in. "Hot Stuff" is just bizarre - Ashlee opens with the sure to be immortal lyric "I walk into your joint with a hoodie on, don't need a short skirt to get it on" before singing some crap about being drunk and lifting her legs in the air. I love it! Chad Hugo uses every trick from the Neptunes handbook on this memorable number. Not to be outdone, Timbaland's "Murder" (unsuccessfully) attempts to throw in what can only be described as an urban rock number. It doesn't work but it certainly is interesting. "Bittersweet World" concludes with a fairly insipid ballad ("Never Dream Alone"), which is a shame because the bonus tracks are fantastic. "Invisible" was actually released as an American single in 2006 and still holds up as one of Ashlee's best guitar pop anthems, while "Follow You Wherever You Go" has to be heard to be believed! This piss take is sung from the perspective of a stalker, complete with anecdotes about kidnapping a supermodel and several bizarre spoken interludes. "Bittersweet World" isn't a masterpiece but it is a hell of a lot of fun. Treat yourself to this most guilty of pleasures.