Judging by her second stint on Saturday Night Live, Ashlee Simpson has either honed her singing skills or vastly improved her lip-syncing, coasting through both of her songs and scoring nary a headline in the Sunday morning papers. Whether that will be good or bad for the sales of her sophomore album I Am Me remains to be seen. After opening with the lead single “Boyfriend,” a catchy, (possible) retort to claims that she stole Lindsay Lohan’s boyfriend and featuring a dazzling backdrop of buzzing New Wave synths and Jack White-esque guitar riffs, the album quickly slides into the kind of generic, MOR schlock that producer John Shanks excels at (“In Another Life,” “Beautifully Broken,” and the title track). But I Am Me is still a sizeable improvement over Simpson’s debut Autobiography. The whiplash pop confectionery of “Coming Back For More” is downright impossible to resist; an entire album’s worth of material like this, the cool, early-‘80s-influenced “Dancing Alone,” and the dub/dancehall pop number “Burnin Up” would be enough to convert even the most cynical Simpson-hater. But she’s complex, man: “Does anybody see/That sometimes loneliness is just a part of me?” Simpson croons earnestly on “Catch Me When I Fall,” a piano ballad that becomes even more annoying when you find out it was written in the wake of her SNL snafu. Simpson is most tolerable when she’s singing about dancing with stolen boyfriends, and her postured, brooding angst comes off as completely phony. It’s when she takes herself even somewhat seriously that I just can’t. I Am Me isn’t half bad—but it’s only half good.
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