The ‘90s ended in a blur of blonde. Cute young singers with golden locks and terrible lyrics filled the airwaves and battled for superstardom. At first they seemed to be one and the same, but slowly the clones asserted themselves. Britney was named captain. Christina became the diva. Mandy got to be the candy girl. And poor Jessica got left behind in the tour-bus dust. She ended up being “that other blonde singer”. So with the release of her second album, Irresistible, Jessica Simpson had to prove that she could hold her own female stereotype. Now she has risen up, through the hair bleach and glittery tube tops, as the God-fearing good girl.
Like her singing sorority sisters, Jessica rigidly follows the pop commandments. On Irresistible she manages to A) use the word baby whenever possible, B) display an ethereal understanding of love and loss, C) maintain a continual loop of bad drum programming, D) fill each song with that ubiquitous twinkling wind-chime sound, and E) exploit every cliché under the sun. But she forgot one essential element: have fun. What makes pop worthwhile, even to connoisseurs of more “intelligent” music, is that you can dance to it, you can make out to it, and you can get silly with it. Irresistible is more reminiscent of trips to the dentist’s office, or any equally oppressive place that only plays adult contemporary schlock.
Still, don’t blame Jessica for the bleakness of this album. She seems like a really sweet girl (in the CD liner she thanks “everyone in the world”) and her voice does have a nice purity. It’s just that she’s under the reign of Tommy Mottola, and well, we all know what he does to naïve girls with a high octave range. The album is formulaic and forgettable—exactly what Wal-mart moms want their daughters to be listening to and what an industry based on the commodification of young talent loves to pump out.
If you skip past the horrific ballads (particularly “There You Were”, a sappy duet with Marc Anthony), Jessica hints at a Mariah-like ability to break free and get groovy. This is most apparent during “A Little Bit”. With pop star sass, she belts out “A little less talk, a little more do / A little less me, a little more you”, proving that she’s a girl with attitude—and fierce rhyming ability. This saucy energy bubbles up again in “What’s It Gonna Be”, when she sings “I wanna know where we stand / Are you gonna be a dog or a gentleman”. Then, on “Hot Like Fire”, Jessica sings with sexy gruffness over a standard hip-hop beat. The “rawness” of this song is painfully over-produced, yet it is one of the best tracks on the album.
Unfortunately, the hip-hop aesthetic, as well as the Spanish guitar used on “Forever in Your Eyes” and “Never” is appropriated and flattened. The only genre beyond pop that Jessica gets right is gospel. She closes the album with “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”, a piece she grew up singing in church. As the song progresses, Jessica sings with a depth and passion that is lacking on the rest of the album. Her exuberance for God shines throughout the song, surfacing again in the liner notes when she claims, “Ever since I was a young girl singing has always been an act of worship”. I’m not sure what the demand for sexy blond gospel singers is, but Jessica has the ability to produce decent music if only she’d trash the pop and stick to what she believes in.