Jessica Simpson was always in the shadows of Miss Spears and Miss Aguilera for the early part of her career. The innocent 19-year-old didn't have any #1s from 1999's Sweet Kisses
, but it did establish her name in the Pop scene. The follow-up from a decidedly sexier and not-so-innocent Simpson two years later didn't reach the heights of Sweet Kisses
and the refusal of her record company to release a third single from Irresistible
looked ominous for the aspiring Texan. Simpson's (singing) career effectively hinged on the success of the 2003 release In This Skin
. With the release date held back to coincide with the première of the surprisingly successful MTV reality series Newlyweds
, initial sales were less than expected. While her singing career was not living up to its promise, Newlyweds
was continually growing in popularity, and accordingly so interest in Simpson was once again rising. After the acknowledged failure of the first single Sweetest Sin
, the success of With You
prompted the re-release that you are reading a review of. Adding two songs (both of which are covers) which would later become singles and an 'acoustic' version of With You
, in both of its guises In This Skin
is Simpson's most successful album, selling over 5 million copies worldwide and going three-times platinum in the US.
The innocent, naïve Jessica Simpson of 1999 stills rears her not-very-ugly head at times with some of the most disposable, “bubble-gum” Pop you are likely to hear this side of Texas. The chorus of I Have Loved You
would be at home on an Avril Lavigne
or Nikki Webster album (for those of you not from Australia, she was the little girl in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics who started her Pop career at 13). But it's not the sugary Pop sound that is 19-year-old-Jessica's biggest legacy on In This Skin
: that's probably the lyrics. At 23 and well and truly not a virgin anymore, Simpson is still singing about the Forbidden Fruit
and the unrequited lust that “keeps me up all night”. One can't help but feel that perhaps there were some left-over tracks from the sessions of Irresistible
or Sweet Kisses
that were somehow squeezed onto this. Basically this album's greatest shortcoming is the amount of “filler”. Apart from the singles, only few of the tracks are worth even a first listen, let alone a second. Although Simpson's impressive dulcet tones are the centrepiece for the album, at (many) times it's just not enough to sustain interest. Having said that, there are moments of undeniably catchy, alluring Pop music.
The cover of Robbie Williams
is a highlight of the album and it was certainly a good decision to open this re-release with the surprisingly unsuccessful single. This track was perhaps not as well received because of the inevitable comparisons with the original version - essentially unavoidable when covering such a recent hit. Excluding such comparisons and standing alone, this version of 'Angels
' is an attractive Pop song. A timid, mellow four minutes, fundamentally quite similar to the original, which is potentially the most significant drawback. This is a likeable track with Simpson's vocals imposing her own character on the song, and the fact that it wasn't written by her or anyone she's ever sung with has no bearing on its assessment.
The lead-single With You
is arguably Simpson's most successful single to date and confirmed her re-emergence on the Pop scene abandoned by former adversaries Spears
, who largely overshadowed her first two albums (whether they are any good or not I'm not actually sure [the albums]). Singing about then-husband Nick Lachey, With You
is well-produced, catchy Pop and Simpson at her best. Again the lyrics are generic and unimaginative (but really, what does one expect when listening to a Jessica Simpson album"), however for a casual Pop song and effective single this does the job. Another cover comes up next, as one of the songs included exclusively for this album is Take My Breath Away
, originally by Berlin. Perhaps a little uninspired, the hook is predictably catchy with Simpson's voice again leading the track.
My Way Home
just doesn't fit on this album, at least not directly after the opening of three of the singles. Simpson seems to use this track for little more than vocal gymnastics at times and it essentially feels confused and disorganised. The album would have been better off without this track. The unsuccessful single Sweetest Sin
reminds me of Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares To You
. Simpson perhaps somewhat deceptively and ambiguously sings about abstaining from sex with lyrics synonymous with Forbbiden Fruit
. In truth this track is tolerable, even though it does introduce the weak section of the album.
unmistakably reminds me of Three Doors Down
's Here Without You
, from the vocal lines to the piano part to the harmonies. If anything In This Skin
certainly takes its influences from a diverse range of Pop artists. This track sounds like earlier Mariah Carey
, particularly on the bridge, and I guess that this is an understandable comparison. Simpson's voice is certainly powerful and some of the slow piano-ballads do remind the listener of some of the powerful Pop “divas” of the 90s, like Carey and Toni Braxton.
You Don't Have To Let Go
is another example of the unexpected piano accompaniments on the album, and believe it or not I can hear shades of Billy Joel, Elton John, James Blunt
and certainly Missy Higgins
in this one. This track is part of the slower middle-section of the album and gives weight to the argument that at times Simpson is not purely “Pop”: This is likely to be classified as Soul, or some other pseudo Pop genre I'm not familiar with. Whatever it is, it's a welcome change of tempo and break from the sugary Pop of the first-half of the album. The mood of the album takes a distinctly sultry turn with the slow, dance-influenced Loving You
. The lyrics reach new depths of mundane and despite this track having the potential to be a successful, likeable dance track, it's culminates in a terribly repetitive attempt at music best left to J-Lo.
Simpson still seems somewhat caught in the sound which spawned her career, that of the 'bubble-gum' Pop of the late 90s. While at times In This Skin
shows signs of development and some variety, perhaps it will take a complete overhaul of her direction and production to produce a truly memorable contemporary Pop album. If she has that in her, though, is another question. The way I see it is that Jessica Simpson is undeniably a talented singer on the cusp of becoming a superstar but her music's not quite there yet. Although the singles are (generally) strong Pop songs, In This Skin (Collector's Edition)
is not 52 minutes of solid, consistently likeable music. This could use a lot less sugar and a lot more diversity. It has its moments but it's not one for the ages.