Ashlee Simpson’s ‘Bittersweet World’ sounds just plain sweet. There’s no reason to believe that Ashlee Simpson is living in a “Bittersweet World.” Jess’ fun-loving little sis is newly engaged, with a giant sparkler from Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, and has been blissfully showing it off to the cameras. As it happens, the songs on Simpson’s third studio album sound more sweet than bitter.
Though the effervescent pop-punkster is growing up, with a maybe baby on the way, the disc retains the girly-tomboy vibe and sleek production of her previous albums. This time around, Simpson enlisted the sonic skills of megaproducer Timbaland and The Neptunes’ Chad Hugo, and it shows in beat-heavy songs like “Murder,” featuring rapper Izza Kizza, and “Boys,” the album’s best song, in which Simpson coyly croons: “Some say I make the guys/Hyptonized/When I bat my eyes/And walk past/They say I’m such a tease/But that’s just me.”
The cheeky fun extends to tracks like “Rule Breaker,” “Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)” and “Hot Stuff,” a flirty dance number; other songs take a serious tone when exploring the heavier subject of failed relationships. In “What I’ve Become,” the tabloid fixture comments on her celebrity: “It’d be nice to make/Some mistakes without observations, Let me live as who I am.”
Ashlee Simpson is hardly less plastic than her nice-girl sister, Jessica. On her third album, “Bittersweet World,” the defiant pose — “I just wanna color outside the lines,” she pouts in “Rule Breaker,” sounding about as dangerous as an unruly kindergartner — gives her fertile songwriting territory. Ms. Simpson is smart enough to work with expert hitmakers, among them the producers Chad Hugo from the Neptunes (his partner, Pharrell Williams, has been working with Madonna) and Timbaland (who squeezed Madonna and Ms. Simpson into his schedule). And she’s shameless enough to mimic Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne, Madonna and 1980s hits from Toni Basil, Tom Tom Club and Missing Persons.
The shamelessness pays off in songs with crisp beats, teen-seeking choruses and cheerfully obvious lyrics. “Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)” and “Ragdoll,” her collaborations with the Brooklyn electro up-and-comer Santogold, are perky, syncopated staccato complaints. “No Time For Tears” segues spooky Eurythmics verses into a pop-punk chorus. Ms. Simpson ricochets from vampy self-esteem (“Hot Stuff,” “Boys”) to postbreakup sulking (“Little Miss Obsessive”) to generically sincere protestations that “it’s not easy bein’ me.” It couldn’t be more calculated, but that doesn’t prevent it from being catchy, too.