Divorce tends to bring people down. (See Nick Lachey's ``What's Left of Me.") But far be it from Jessica Simpson to let a pesky life event like the end of a marriage spoil a branding campaign. ``A Public Affair," Simpson's fifth album and her first since divorcing Lachey, is a frothy party record: a bronzed, bubble-headed collection that's largely uncomplicated by emotions, personality, or quality.
SAMPLE JESSICA SIMPSON
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The title song and opening track sets the fluffy, frivolous tone, although it's hard to fathom why it required eight songwriters to recycle Madonna's ``Holiday." Only five were nec essary to recast Janet Jackson's ``When I Think of You" as ``If You Were Mine." Those two songs are the disc's, and Simpson's, finest moments -- mainly because they require nothing from the singer beyond a breezy coo. The first half of the collection proceeds in featherweight mode until track seven, when Simpson starts to stretch and the album morphs from sunny and harmless to creepy and embarrassing.
``Swing with Me" is a reworking of Louis Prima's ``Sing Sing Sing," and Simpson's graceless, guttu ral delivery is just dreadful. And then it gets worse. ``Cocka-cocka-cockadoodle do!" Simpson hollers on ``Push Your Tush," a country-funk disco tune that seems to have been conceived as the redneck answer to ``My Humps." Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the song's producers, should be fined for this track, which is built around slap bass and Simpson's cackling laughter. But there's more. ``Fired Up," producer du jour Scott Storch's stern hip-hop contribution, is a ripped-off mash of Britney Spears's ``Me Against the Music" and Gwen Stefani's ``Hollaback Girl."
Several ballads are stuffed near the back of the disc, perhaps because they seem so desperately out of character with the gaudy pap that precedes. ``Back To You," another Jam-Lewis production, is sweet and light: a perfect fit. Sappy, sentimental ``Between You & I" is straight out of a sock hop: a reminder that Simpson was born to warble a middling pop ballad. In that light, whoever OK'd Simpson's album-closing cover of Patty Griffin's ``Let Him Fly" made a terrible miscalculation. This scarcely endowed thrush pales in the glow of such a deep, tender tune.
Joan Anderman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org