Simpson struggles to find voice

Ashlee Simpson continues to battle her identity crisis with the release of I Am Me, the follow-up to her debut album Autobiography. In the past, inner turmoil has proven a key ingredient in meaningful music. In Simpson’s case, turmoil is replaced by incessant whining, and she succeeds in cementing her new status as a conflicted twenty-something who feels shunned by society.

After suffering public humiliation when she was exposed for lip-synching on Saturday Night Live, it is not unreasonable for Simpson to vent, but recording it for musical purposes may be asking too much from those kind enough to listen.

The new album consists of 11 tracks, all co-written by Simpson, that incorporate her predictable pattern of drawn-out wails and squeals. For the most part, the songs are well produced and thanks to the magic of studio recording, Simpson’s voice adequately delivers. The scratchy, rough texture of her voice adds dimension to the lyrics and sets her apart from her peers in a positive way. Although she should never karaoke a hit by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, part of her appeal lays comes from her inabilities — her listeners can relate because the majority of them also lack an eight-octave range.

Several songs on the album are indicative of Simpson’s growth since being publicly disgraced, and her willingness to channel those emotions into song was her saving grace on this album. The title track, “I Am Me,” is Simpson’s declaration of self as she yells, “I am me, and I won’t change for anyone” over a booming mix of electric guitar and percussion.

The mood darkens significantly in “Catch Me When I Fall,” in which Simpson poignantly describes the perils of being a lonely, misunderstood, ill-fated starlet, but at least she does so convincingly.

The descent towards clinical depression continues with “Eyes Wide Open,” which integrates an oddly placed techno beat with lyrics that describe how Simpson felt on that fateful night as the recorded version of her hit song blared from the speakers instead of her live voice: “Do you know how it feels to be afraid / lying there frozen / with my eyes wide open.”

Just when it seems Simpson is never going to get over it, “Beautifully Broken” shines a light at the end of the long tunnel she managed to dig for herself. Aside from being more emotionally uplifting, the song’s mellow vibe makes it one of the best tracks on the album. Her signature brand of sassy pop-rock makes an appearance in “In Another Life,” “Coming Back for More,” and the album’s first single, “Boyfriend.” Simpson’s spunk on her first effort Autobiography was what made her music, despite the hoarse vocals, worthy of industry attention.

Simpson’s sophomore project is rounded out by the misplaced, misguided mistakes otherwise known as “L.O.V.E.” and “Burning Up.” Simpson experimented with new sounds on this album, as any artist should, but taking cues from Gwen Stefani proved hazardous in this case.

I Am Me is by no means a profound body of work worthy of extraordinary praise and admiration. The end result of Simpson’s downward spiral could be better, but it’s obvious her priorities are different now. A year ago, Simpson would have been hoping for a hit, but now she is hoping for a career.