Yes, everyone wants to know whether Ashlee Simpson and her fiancé, Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz, are expecting their first child. But after listening to Simpson's new "Bittersweet World" (Geffen) album, what should concern them is that she may actually have no idea what year it is.
Hint No. 1: It's not 1983. The album's first single, the Timbaland-produced "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)" has Simpson channeling Missing Persons' Dale Bozzio's quirkiness over a beat that approximates Madonna's "Burning Up." She follows that with "Boys," which is sorta like that time Cyndi Lauper turned "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" into a reggae song, only, you know, horrible. "Hot Stuff" is even worse.
Hint No. 2: It's not 1995. With its jittery guitar and vocals, "Ragdoll" could have been built for No Doubt's "Tragic Kingdom" breakthrough only to be rejected as, well, so bad that not even The Police-styled "yo's" can save it. On the title track, Simpson merges No Doubt with that faux-flapper style Christina Aguilera tried on her last album, but that doesn't help either.
Hint No. 3: It's not 1998. Sure, there was a time when a good, catchy power-pop-tinged number like "No Time for Tears" would be strong enough to sell a whole album, despite the rest of it being packed with misguided filler. But those days - the heyday of her big sis, Jessica - are long gone. Even the passable Pinkish pop of the current single "Little Miss Obsessive," with backing vocals from Plain White T's Tom Higgenson, isn't enough to keep "Bittersweet World" from going sour.
Forget the toasters and bedsheets and various other wedding and/or baby shower gifts. What Simpson really needs is a calendar. And maybe a radio.
JUSTIFIED BRAGGING. Billy Bragg assembles the best bits of his various incarnations as busker, punk, folkie and political gadfly and throws in some touching love songs for his new album "Mr. Love and Justice" (Anti-). He's as cutting as ever on "The Johnny Carcinogenic Show" as he sings about the marketing of cigarettes, complaining, "What other industry could ever get away with contaminating their best customers this way?" over a pretty, blues-tinged pop song. He carries on Woody Guthrie's tradition in "O Freedom," a dramatic folk tale of post- 9/11 terrorist investigations. So much for justice, but Bragg is best when he's singing about love, in the spare, touching "You Make Me Brave" and in the laid-back, lovely "I Keep Faith," with the great Robert Wyatt.
("Mr. Love and Justice," in stores today; Grade: B)
ALSO IN STORES. Atmosphere's alt-hip-hop "When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That - Gold" (Rhymesayers); Story of the Year's "The Black Swan" (Epitaph); HBO sitcom stars Flight of the Conchords' eponymous debut (Sub Pop); Elbow's moody Britpop "The Seldom Seen Kid" (Geffen); Tokyo Police Club's "Elephant Shell" (Saddle Creek); the expanded edition of Atreyu's "Lead Sails Paper Anchor 2.0" (Hollywood); and the deluxe 2-CD edition of Carole King's "Tapestry: Legacy Edition" ( Sony Legacy).
SONG OF THE WEEK. Maybe all Jennifer Lopez needed was a little balance. While the singles from her "Brave" album struggled, she seems destined for another hit with "This Boy's Fire," a Latin-tinged midtempo rock collaboration with Carlos Santana that has both stars doing what they do best. While Santana throws in some fiery guitar solos, Lopez winds her way through one street-wise hook after another, weaving together what could be the biggest hit either one of them has had in a while.
BITTERSWEET WORLD. Ashlee Simpson takes odd, anachronistic musical parts and makes a big mess. In stores today. Grade: C-.
Contact Glenn Gamboa at 631-843-3434.
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
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