When you think of Jessica Simpson, a few phrases come to mind: divorcee, reality star, tabloid magnet, wig designer, burgeoning movie star.
"Singer" may be near the bottom of the list. Although a teenage Simpson entered the celebrity world as an aspiring pop star, she only had so-so success: While Beyonce, Britney and Christina dazzled and excited listeners, Simpson came across as a forgettable singer with equally forgettable tunes.
Only when she put her life on display in MTV's "Newlyweds," with then-husband Nick Lachey, did her career take off. Once the focus was off her singing, fans finally saw something irresistible about Simpson — a daffy, delightful persona that oozed sex appeal, charm and humor.
Now 26 years old, with her marriage and reality series both finished, Simpson is hoping to re-establish herself as a singer with her fifth album, "A Public Affair." But instead of showcasing her overlooked talent, it only serves as a reminder of why we never cared about her as a singer in the first place.
Simpson has a strong voice, and unlike, say, Britney Spears, can make her vocals soar. But unlike Spears, she doesn't have catchy songs to draw us in. Case in point: her first single, "A Public Affair." It takes chunks of Madonna's "Holiday" and Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to cobble the song together, and it's still a frothy, fluffy mess that sounds like karaoke.
That effect permeates much of the album, especially since Simpson chooses a decidedly retro feel — '80s covers like "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" and dated disco tracks — for much of it. Unlike Gwen Stefani, who managed to turn her '80s inspiration into an inspired, creative gem with "Love.Angel.Music.Baby," Simpson's tunes — eight of which she co-wrote — just sound like retreads. Vocally she also disappoints, choosing to pant and vamp her way through a song instead of really singing.
You wish that she had some strong, quality producers to better guide her.
But wait — legendary hitmakers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis are represented here. So is superhot producer Scott Storch, who has managed to make professional celebrity Paris Hilton sound listenable. As is emerging songwriter Johnta Austin, who had so much success with Mariah Carey last year.
So why did Simpson end up with banal, ridiculous dance songs like "Push Your Tush" and uninspired ballads? Even her attempt to mine her busted love life for emotion falls flat — "I Don't Want To Care" features verses that would barely get a passing grade in a Songwriting 101 class, like, "I don't want to care about us, I don't want to care at all anymore, I used to want to care a little bit, but now I care way too much ... I don't wanna care anymore."
Simpson is enough of a superstar at this point that her name alone will make this record a platinum success, like her last, "In This Skin." But the album comes across as an afterthought from a mega-celebrity stretched too thin. Unless she puts more effort into her music, Simpson's tabloid persona and public affairs will remain the reason for her fame.