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A new look, a new identity crisis

October 16, 2005|Natalie Nichols

Ashlee Simpson

"I Am Me" (Geffen)

* 1/2

ASHLEE SIMPSON is just a girl who insists on being herself, whether clubbing with friends on the hip-hopping, hand-clapping "L.O.V.E.," falling for a hot guy in the funky "Burning Up," or grappling with life's vicissitudes on the blues-adjacent ballad "Catch Me When I Fall."

But the actress-turned-pop-star sometimes feels so very, very lonely and misunderstood -- accused of man-stealing in the infectiously slick rocker "Boyfriend," struggling with public embarrassment in the chiming, jangling "Beautifully Broken," written after her performance malfunction last year on "Saturday Night Live."

Still, despite the self-assertive title of this follow-up to her hit 2004 debut, "Autobiography," you have to wonder: Exactly who is Ashlee Simpson? Here she tries on different musical personae -- Gwen Stefani, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera -- like so many cute, pleated miniskirts.

She co-wrote all 11 tracks, but the emotions seem slightly removed, mainly because her singing is not convincing in the least.

Some have congratulated her for actually doing live vocals on her recent return to "SNL," but her honking take on "Boyfriend" made you wish she'd faked it. Producer John Shanks somewhat disguises Simpson's nasal, flat affect with a mixture of icy, new-wave sheen and '80s-style big-rock flourishes, but the songs become so overblown that her attempts to reveal her flawed humanity are drowned in bombast.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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