Review: Jessica Simpson’s “Do You Know”

Sep 10, 2008 10:13am

Some people just don’t give up.  Jessica Simpson has yet to really set herself apart from the pack as a pop singer.  She’s known more for the dim-bulb personality she showed on her long-cancelled reality show than she is known as a singer, even though singing was her original claim to fame.  For this reason (or in an act at shooting-at-the-wall desperation) she decided to do something different for this record.  “Do You Know” is her stab at a country album.  It’s her attempt to prove how down-home she is.  Does it work?  No.  It doesn’t.  It’s essentially the same punishing pop with an ill-tasting honky-tonk coat. She hasn’t had a career-defining hit and this sudden gear-shift will not improve her chances.  It’s not surprisingly, still a low-quality pop record.  Jessica Simpson will never have the credibility of the country and folk singers she’s poorly imitating.  Does she want to be taken seriously?  The acoustic guitar-work that sets off the opening single “Come on Over” seems to think she does.  But, how can she be taken seriously as a C-minus-level pop-princess turned country newbie when the title is stolen from Shania Twain?  That small observation speaks volumes about what this really is.  It’s a cash-in that probably won’t work at all.  Simpson proves her unoriginality in country just as she does in pop.  As she coos away ridiculous lyrics like “Leave your dishes in the sink. Leave your ice-cubes in your drink.  Just come on over,” it’s evident that she’s attempting to be seductive, but it just sounds silly. (I understand wanting to do something else before you do dishes, but when have you ever purged your glass of ice before you went somewhere?  To me, that seems unusual.)  The bottom line is the track sounds like generic country-flavored pop of the blandest and most insipid variety. It’s full of clichéd references as if it was developed by a focus group. There are country fans that wear a “baseball cap and ripped up jeans,” but come on.  If you are a real fan, you have to know you are being snowed here! There are many listeners out there who are satisfied with the uniform feeling of most new country music today, but not me. I expect more.  I also suspect that most fans looking for an authentic country record will not respond well to this.  Country is a kind of music that should be as authentic as possible.  Simpson comes off like a poseur trying on a new outfit in order to gauge the reaction.  “Remember That” is her attempt a country ballad.  She sings through her nose this anthem for the downtrodden.  It’s a pop ballad with some slide guitar and a fiddle.  It’s also forgettable, which considering the title is sort of ironic. “Pray Out Loud” has the same vibe, only this time it gives shout-outs to God. Pardon my cynicism, but all I can picture when I hear this is another strategy session.  It’s as if she’s running a political campaign to win over her new audience.  One can picture her father, acting as a strategist, telling her she needs to do a song like this to win over the spiritual crowd.  Never mind the fact that the song is full of non-specific lines like, “Everybody’s got their problems.  Everybody’s got their struggles.” It’s all part of the plan.  “When you’re down, don’t be afraid to pray out loud,” she sings.  It’s not original and it lacks any sort of real core.  It feels like it’s just there for its symbolism.  It doesn’t feel like a substantial declaration of faith. “You’re My Sunday” is a by-the-numbers mandolin-fueled ballad with a cheeseball soft-rock guitar solo.  Like everything else Simpson sings, it lacks distinct personality.  When Simpson begins “Sipping on History” with the line, “I could have been your June Carter Cash,” I’m sure many listeners will scoff and choke a little.  If she is June Carter Cash, who is her Johnny? (Ex, John Mayer, perhaps?) Thinking about this and the iconic Cash family’s mere mention on this atrocious album is an insult to real country fans and to Johnny and June’s well-earned legacy. Simpson can never be June Carter Cash, and her story of love where she’s “80 years old” with her love falls flat because of the absurd, ill-fitting, presumptuous, somewhat arrogant comparison.    “Still Beautiful” is a mid-tempo song again about bad days and how she has always believed how “God won’t give (her) more than (she) can handle.” Once again, it’s another vague pep talk about picking one’s self up when “life’s gonna bring down some rain.”   She sings, “But when it’s over, I’ll be that much stronger for the pain, and I’ll know that every day I have is still beautiful.”  It’s the kind of soul-sucking schmaltz that has been poisoning the greeting card industry for years!  Again, no real substantive story of struggle, just empty catch-phrases spewed out like bumper-sticker blurbs.  “Still Don’t Stop Me” finds Simpson back in generic ballad mode.  It could’ve been an awful pop song, only the guitar style and the instrumentation lets us know it’s an awful country song instead.  Simpson belts away.  One gets the feeling that Simpson thinks she has a stronger voice than she does as she continues this soaring ear assault.  As the song rises, she just gets louder.  Listening to this, there were several moments during the chorus when I caught myself wincing.    “When I Loved You Like That” is an attempt at a piano ballad with such unmemorable lines like “Why you gotta be so complicated? Give me the world, then take it back.” “Might As Well Be Making Love” is similarly piano-power-ballad-y.  It’s tailor-made for the worst “Lite Music” station you can imagine times ten.  Think about Michael Bolton or Celine Dion and there you are just beginning to get the idea.  Then the guitar solo comes in to remind us again that this is supposed to be a country record.  “Man Enough” asks the unbelievably unoriginal questions, “Are you man enough?  Are you brave enough?”  It is evident that Simpson’s only role here is to take the most tired, vacant love song clichés and officially beat them like a dead horse on top of a pile of other dead horses.  The album ends with the title track.  It’s upsetting to find a real country icon like Dolly Parton on this record.   It’s evident that Simpson really probably wants to be Dolly, but she lacks the grounded gumption. Parton should’ve steered clear even if her harmony adds some earthy substance that the rest of the album lacks. This album feels like it was made from a pattern.  It doesn’t work at all.  Simpson has no personality in her lyrics or in her vocal ability.  The pictures inside the album prove she’s all pout and no presence.  I listened to this album so you didn’t have to.  If you are a real country fan, go pick up something authentic.  Jessica Simpson is still a sub-par pop singer with low-grade material no matter how you slice it.  If you add a dash of vanilla to fertilizer, you still have fertilizer! 

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