Jessica Simpson

In This Skin

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Out of all the teen pop thrushes of the late '90s/early 2000s, Jessica Simpson was perhaps the oddest. Not because she was genuinely strange -- especially compared to Christina or Pink -- but because she never seemed that comfortable with the genre. On her debut, Sweet Kisses, that awkwardness could be written off as first-time jitters, particularly because the album boasted the dynamite single "I Think I'm in Love," which is about as perfect as pop gets. On her second album, Irresistible, her awkwardness could be attributed to either the fabled sophomore slump or the fact that she was being tarted up too much, presented as a sexy tease when she's really just the sweet, curvy girl next door. Now, for her third album, In This Skin, she tones down the trashy club beats and image, staying within the contemporary dance-pop realm while inching toward the middle-of-the-road diva that she's always yearned to be. And that's the key to Simpson and her oddly unsatisfying records -- apart from that brief, brilliant moment on "I Think I'm in Love," she's never seemed like she's wanted to sing pop music. She's somebody who would have been much more comfortable in an era where she could have been produced by Mitch Miller, not somebody who half-heartedly sings moderately stylish, overly calculated dance-pop. Simpson is not a bad singer, but she doesn't have much charisma, and only when she's given a show-stopping ballad in the vein of Celine Dion can she really strut her skills. The problem with In This Skin is that its heart is in the mature middle of the road but its sound is still pitched too young, making this a record that satisfies neither audience. Simpson is still a sweet, photogenic girl with a good voice, but she's yet to find a set of songs or producers to showcase her at her best. In her favor, as she gets further removed from her teens, she will be allowed to do more mature material, but the downside is that if she doesn't find a good collaborator soon, she might not get many more chances to find her sound.

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