With its rotating images of superstars old and new, Columbia Records’s website speaks volumes. Now that Mariah Carey and Celine Dion are gone from its roster, Sony Music’s newest shining hope, Jessica Simpson, is being positioned as the next big pop starlet. But after a Carey-inspired start with the hits “I Wanna Love You Forever” and “Where You Are,” a duet with then-boyfriend and 98° frontman Nick Lachey, Simpson all but fractures those hopes with her lackluster sophomore effort Irresistible. For most of the album, Simpson opts for Britney-style cheese pop rather than fostering the pseudo-sophisticated potential that once set her apart from her teen peers.From the R&B-lite of the title track to the saccharine balladry of “For Your Love,” there isn’t an original note on the entire album. This year’s designated duet partner is Marc Anthony with an answer to last year’s “Where You Are:” “There You Were.” The track is home to such nonsense as “You reached through the hurricane/When you, baby, you called my name.” “What’s It Gonna Be” sounds like an Oops!...I Did It Again outtake; it’s disposable bubble gum pop that completely squanders Simpson’s vocal talent.
The singer’s power-pipes are, however, on full display in the dramatic ballad “When You Told Me You Loved Me.” Simpson’s over-the-top vocal acrobatics recall the crystalline performances that helped Carey rise to fame a decade ago. The other redeemable track on Irresistible is “Hot Like Fire,” a semi-camp high-energy ditty that begins with a faux phone call from a friend exposing Simpson’s “player” boyfriend. Simpson goes on to give him a taste of his own medicine with an unexpected dose of teen angst. But the bulk of the album rehashes the same formulas that have been used in pop music so many times before. Perhaps misguided by those around her, Irresistible finds Simpson trying to be something she’s not by sexing herself up and dumbing her songs down. The final track, the gospel number “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” seems to be the most purely genuine song on the whole album and, unlike the pop-machine-manufactured tracks, it’s clearly close to Simpson’s heart.