So today is Thursday and in the world of Instagram it is #ThrowbackThursday so I thought I’d apply that little trend to today’s blog post. I want to share with you an album from many years ago which I always felt like it never got the attention it deserved.
The year is 2008, oh what a great year that was. Lady GaGa did not exist, Rihanna finally scored a number 1 single with ‘Umbrella’ and Katy Perry burst out onto the scene with ‘I Kissed A Girl’. Amidst all of this, Ashlee Simpson released her third studio album titled ‘Bittersweet World’.
Now a little back story for anyone who isn’t familiar with Ashlee Simpson; she is the younger sister of Jessica Simpson and started her own solo career in 2004 with her debut album ‘Autobiography’. In 2004 Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey were hot property thanks to the success of their reality soap opera ‘MTV’s Newlyweds’ and it was only natural for Jessica’s little sister to capitalise on the new found success her sister was enjoying. Ashlee had her own MTV reality show called ‘The Ashlee Simpson Show’ which acted as a vehicle for promotion for her debut album.
The overall sound of her debut was in the vain of Avril Lavigne and FeFe Dobson. Basically a pop/rock girl with attitude but far more Hilary Duff than P!NK. Despite mixed reviews the album sold pretty well selling 300,000 copies in its first week, a figure which some megastars struggle to reach today.
I can’t discuss Ashlee Simpson and not mention her infamous Saturday Night Live performance where she was caught out lip-syncing when the wrong backing track started playing and Ashlee, looking like a deer caught in head lights did the only thing she could do in this situation; she did the Irish jig. Its been almost 10 years since the incident and I never quite understood why she did that but moving on.
Not deterred by the negative press she received, Ashlee charged on and realised her second album ‘I Am Me’ in 2005. It sold 200,000 copies in its first week, a decline on her debut but its a figure some artists would kill for today in 2014. Again the sound was pop rock and it received scathing reviews from critics such as Rolling Stone who awarded it one and a half stars. Ouch!
Now the year is 2008 and Ashlee Simpson releases her third studio album ‘Bittersweet World’. Unlike her previous two albums, the sound of this album was less about the guitars and more focused on production. Simpson even she wanted to make ‘singer song writer’ record but changed her mind in favour of a ‘fun dancey album’ which still retained some elements of her previous pop/rock work.
You are probably wondering why she decided to go in a completely different direction with this album but you have to remember that in 2008 everything you heard on the radio was produced by either Timbaland or Danja Hills. The ‘urban’ sound that they developed became the ‘pop’ sound of the late noughties and Ashlee was simply staying on trend musically. Also the whole pop/rock sound which was so popular in the early 2000s was losing its footing on the charts and Ashlee realised this and acted accordingly. Its a shame Avril Lavigne still hasn’t quite realised this but whatever.
The album received mixed reviews, as all albums from Ashlee seemed to do but I decided to listen to this album with an open mind because I had grown used to associating Ashlee Simpson with pop/rock so when I heard she was following in the footsteps of Nelly Furtado (‘Loose’) and Madonna (‘Hard Candy’) and going all urban on me I was intrigued to say the least.
The lead single ‘Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)’ was produced by Timbaland and was a throwback to the synth-pop sound of the 80s with a modern twist. It was catchy as hell, the production was slick and the music video showed a more creative and colourful Ashlee Simpson. The song failed to make much of an impression here in the UK charting at Number 24 but that didn’t stop me from listening to the rest of the album.
And my God this album was good. It wasn’t focused on a girl heartbroken singing about how her boyfriend of 15 minutes did her wrong. This was a grown up Ashlee Simpson singing songs about sex and real relationship struggles and she was having fun with it. The tracks ‘Boys’ and ‘Hot Stuff’ followed in the urban/pop/dancey sound Ashlee was going for with this project and they were fun, breezy, catchy pop songs. And the lyric ‘Use your head but not that one one, track mind ‘ on ‘Boys’ still remains a personal favourite today.
But the album wasn’t a complete urban/pop/dance frenzy, Ashlee did stick true to her promise that the album would still feature song elements of pop rock and this can be seen in ‘Little Miss Obsessive’. A pop/rock power ballad which harked back to Ashlee’s ‘Pieces of Me’ debut single. As with everything related to this album it never got to be great! It was intended on being the album’s second single but by this point interest in the project was fading and Ashlee found herself to be pregnant which brought this album and its entire era to abrupt end before it even had a chance.
Ashlee hasn’t released an album since ‘Bittersweet World’ and despite her fans wanting new music from her (I have tweeted her many times asking for a new album!) she has showed no signs of returning to the studio anytime soon. I guess she is just happy being a Mother at this point in her life.
If ‘Bittersweet World’ ends up being the last ever solo album by Ashlee Simpson then she can at least be proud she ended it with a brilliantly crafted urban infused pop album. Much like everything which came from that era in pop where everyone went urban, ‘Bittersweet World’ doesn’t sound dated at all and plays very well today against the electro pop/EDM genre which exists today. By no means a genre defining album, Ashlee let her creative juices flow on this album and you can see it which gave us the ‘Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)’ which will always go down as a forgotten pop masterpiece.
Hopefully in 20 years times my children will discover this album and appreciate its greatness because it really is a brilliant and enjoyable body of work which Ashlee never received her due for.