If there’s one thing we’ve learned from programming like The Osbournes and Newlyweds, it’s that car navigation systems don’t work. And if you need to use one, well, your last name is probably Simpson. A recent episode of MTV’s latest celebrity vanity project, The Ashlee Simpson Show (which might just be the first reality show dedicated to creating a pop star rather than simply exploiting an existing one), finds Jessica’s little sis driving her souped-up Lexus to a meeting with teen-rock production team The Matrix to discuss the “direction” of her debut album and, to paraphrase one label exec, help the budding singer figure out who she is. Despite assistance from a sex-kitten-voiced electronic navigator, Ashlee arrives several hours late to the meeting. So it’s not surprising that her album, Autobiography, sounds a few years late. It’s hard not to want Ashlee to succeed, rage against the machine for all the pissed off little sisters of pop princesses everywhere and tear the whole mother-fucking house down. Like Avril is a rock-fitted version of Britney, Ashlee ultimately just plays Courtney Love to Jessica’s Mariah Carey, market-tested to the teeth and manufactured to fill the role of the requisite rebel sister. (“Surrender” even touts a Hole-esque guitar riff.) Trouble is, neither sister has been able to capture what made each of those women famous. Ashlee’s got some edge to her voice, but Autobiography‘s got no real grit. She spits—or dribbles, to be more accurate—lyrics like “Sometimes I get dark” and “I like it better when it hurts,” but provides no proof of that anywhere on the album’s 12 cuts, all of which she co-wrote. To be fair, Ashlee is incredibly likeable (apparently that runs in the family), and many of the songs here are catchy as hell (the album’s best track, “Love Me For Me,” manages to be both hooky and gritty), but songs like the autobiographical “Shadow” prove Ashlee needed some navigation all right, just not the kind she received. “It used to be so hard being me/Living in the shadow/Of someone else’s dream,” she sings about her famous sister, and by song’s end, it’s all “Everything’s cool now” and “Oh my life is good.” Sure it is, Ashlee. Now you’ve got a record deal too.
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