Bittersweet World

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Bittersweet World
Studio album by Ashlee Simpson
Released April 19, 2008 (2008-04-19)
Recorded 2004 – January 2008
Length 39:58
Label Geffen
Producer Jim Beanz, Karl Berringer, Demacio "Demo" Castellon, Ron Fair, Jerome Harmon, Tal Herzberg, Chad Hugo, Kenna, King Logan, Jack Joseph Puig, Ashlee Simpson, Timbaland
Ashlee Simpson chronology
I Am Me
(2005)
Bittersweet World
(2008)
Singles from Bittersweet World
  1. "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)"
    Released: December 11, 2007 (2007-12-11)
  2. "Little Miss Obsessive"
    Released: March 11, 2008 (2008-03-11)

Bittersweet World is the third studio album by American recording artist Ashlee Simpson. It was released in the United States on April 22, 2008.[1][2] Simpson worked on the album with producers Timbaland, Chad Hugo, and Kenna.[3] It has been described by Simpson as a "fun party album" with a "silly and quirky" side[4] and some influence from 1980s music. She has also described it as having a more beat-oriented sound than her first two albums, Autobiography and I Am Me, although still retaining some of those albums' guitar-based sound.[5]

It was first reported in March 2007 that the album was planned for release in October 2007.[6] MTV subsequently reported on October 15 that the album's release had been delayed to the first quarter of 2008.[7] On November 13, 2007, Simpson told MTV News at CosmoGIRL!'s Born to Lead Awards that the album was completed (although she was continuing to write) and that it would be released in March 2008, with its first single, the Timbaland-produced "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)", preceding it in January.[8] The album was finally released on April 19, 2008 in Australia[9] and on April 22 in North America.[10]

Background[edit]

In November 2006, after completing her run as Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago, Simpson said that she was going to meet with record executives soon and begin working on her third album.[11] Geffen chairman Ron Fair said in early December 2006 that working on Simpson's next album would be "very tricky" because of press scrutiny and "prejudices", but that Geffen would work with her to overcome that, "because she deserves to be heard and she deserves a shot."[12] MTV reported on March 6, 2007 that Simpson's next album would have "a more soulful sound", and Simpson said she was writing with many different people.[6] On March 22, 2007, EW.com reported that her father and manager Joe Simpson revealed she had been writing with Kenna and Chad Hugo. She also was said to be working with Timbaland, Linda Perry, Pharrell Williams, will.i.am, John Legend, and Tim Rice-Oxley. It was reported at that Simpson was working on a collaboration with The Cure's frontman, Robert Smith,[13] although in July Smith said that he had not worked with her and did not think it was likely that he would do so in 2007; he did, however, give a positive appraisal of Simpson's 2006 performance in Chicago.[14] In September, Simpson said that, although it would be "a dream" to work with Smith, it had never happened and she had been embarrassed by the rumor.[15]

Concept and artwork[edit]

In an MTV News interview with Simpson on December 18, 2007, Simpson said that the album's title would be Bittersweet World, also the name of one of the album's songs; she said that she had also considered the title Color Outside the Lines, a line from the song "Rule Breaker". She described the title Bittersweet World as reflecting how she "feel[s] about the world right now"[16] and later said that the song "Bittersweet World" is "basically about how with the bad comes the good in pretty much every situation and vice versa. There are hard things, but you always have to find the positive."[17] Simpson did the photoshoot for the album with photographer Ben Watts in Los Angeles. The photoshoot took place while Simpson still had blonde hair;[18] she subsequently dyed it red in January 2008.[19] Simpson described the style of the photoshoot as "street-oriented" and referred to the importance of having the photoshoot reflect herself, the album, and what she experienced while recording it. Some of the shots were done in a studio,[18] while others were done outside at Venice Beach.[20]

Themes and influences[edit]

In an April 2007 issue of US Magazine, Simpson was quoted as saying the album would have a more "mature" sound, yet still remain "rock". In the June 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan, she said that as she was becoming more mature, her music was changing, and that the new album would have less focus on relationship trouble and breakups.[21] According to Simpson, the album was initially intended as a "singer-songwriter record", but she subsequently decided to change course and do something more "fun".[5][22] Simpson revealed to E! News in June 2007 that her third album would have fun, dance songs, as well as break-up songs. She was also quoted as saying: "Who knows!? Maybe I'll fall in love on this record!"[23] Simpson gave MTV a sneak peek of the album on September 8. It was described by Simpson as being based on beats more than guitars, unlike her previous albums. Among the songs was "Murder", featuring Travis McCoy. Simpson mentioned her work on Chicago as being one source of inspiration for the album, and she said that "there's a part of every girl and guy who wants to get out and get away with things", mentioning a kind of alter-ego on the album called "Vicky Valentine". Aside from "Murder", other songs mentioned by MTV were "Follow You Wherever You Go" (described as "jazzed-up"), "Rulebreaker", "Ay Ay Ay", and "Ragdoll". According to MTV, Simpson had recorded six songs with Timbaland and seven with Chad Hugo and Kenna.[24] Later, in November, Simpson downplayed the "Vicky Valentine" alter-ego aspect of the album, saying that it "got a little blown out of proportion" and that it was "a joke for us making the record, and it's all lighthearted and all in good fun. It's me at the end of the day. We've all got different sides to us."[8] In an interview with CosmoGIRL! for its December 2007/January 2008 issue (for which she was the cover girl), Simpson said that she did not feel that she needed to prove herself when making this album and that she had a "stronger vision" for it. She also said that she challenged herself by "working with new sounds and new people" and that, although there was an expectation that she would be influenced by her boyfriend Pete Wentz to move further in the direction of rock with this album, she chose the opposite course, describing the result as a "fun party album" with a "silly and quirky" side. According to Simpson, she trusted her instincts in making the album and "felt free to be fun and crazy and sexy".[4]

In an interview with Billboard.com in early December, Simpson said that the album had some 1980s influences but was not entirely styled as an 1980s album. She said that there would still be a pop/rock aspect to the album, mentioning the songs "Rulebreaker" and "Never Dream Alone" in this respect. The album's title was still undecided at the time of the interview, and Simpson said that she intended to choose it during the Christmas holidays. She also said that she was planning on going on tour to support the album around February and that she wanted the initial phase to be a "smaller club tour".[25] Simpson said in a January 2008 interview that the album celebrated her love of life and described how working with Timbaland, Hugo and Kenna was a change of pace; she also said that she wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album: "This is my art and it's personal. If someone else writes the song without my input, it doesn't feel honest." The lyrics on Bittersweet World are "more abstract" than on past albums, according to Simpson, but she was "still singing about things I've gone through or friends went through", calling the subject matter "diverse and universal".[26] According to Simpson, having already achieved two number one albums caused her to feel less pressure in making Bittersweet World, and she felt she had more freedom to do what she wanted with the album.[27] She said that the album was recorded over the course of about a year, concluding around January 2008.[28] Much of the songwriting was done in the studio; Simpson sometimes went to the beach before going to the studio in order to clear her mind.[29]

Composition[edit]

There's a song on the record called "Bittersweet World." And it is, to me. The song is saying that, and "Why can't we all just get along?" It's a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, but it really is one of those love-to-hate kind of things.

Simpson talks about the title track "Bittersweet World".[30]

Simpson described "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)" as a "fun, dancey song" with "a little bit of an '80s feel" and said that it was about the people in her life: "too many voices, too many people having their own opinion".[8] She said that "Murder" "isn't serious, based on a true story or a threat.... It's a metaphor about a girl who can get away with murder because of who she is" and said that "Rule Breaker" was an attempt to "capture that badass feeling you get sometimes after watching a movie like True Romance. You think you can take on the world and you want to color outside the lines and get a tattoo or mouth off to someone way bigger than you." She called "Never Dream Alone" "a sweet emotional song that has been stripped down to piano, strings and vocals" and said that it was her favorite from the album.[26] Regarding "Hot Stuff", Simpson has said that it "is meant to be a fun song.... A lot of things on the record are laughing at situations, poking fun at things. With that, when you go somewhere and girls give you the mean eye. You're like, 'oh, wow – this is crazy.' 'Hot Stuff' makes fun of that. That song is meant to be a good time."[27] According to Simpson, "Bittersweet World" is "about people coming together and not judging each other".[29] Billboard described "Boys" as "The Cardigans' 'Lovefool' atop a Chic rhythm",[2] while People called it "the best Kylie Minogue song that Kylie never did".[31] One review described her delivery on the song as "alternately silly and sensual".[32] "Ragdoll" was described by Billboard as having "a 'Beat It' vibe";[2] Rolling Stone called it "reggae-bopping" and said that it "swipes Gwen Stefani's formula",[33] while the Houston Chronicle said that it "features Casio-esque keyboard tinkling and driving guitars".[32] Rolling Stone noted "What I've Become" as an "excellent coming-of-age anthem" and "a paparazzi kiss-off".[33] People praised "Rule Breaker" as "deliciously bratty and catchy",[31] and Billboard, in its album review, called it a "Pat Benatar-like fist-pumper".[34] "No Time for Tears" was described by Entertainment Weekly as a "melancholy ballad".[35] The Houston Chronicle said that "Bittersweet World" had "the snap-and-wink of a showtune".[32] Billboard's album review characterized "Murder" as having a "dark, hypnotic groove".[34] In December 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named "Rule Breaker" as one of the 100 Best Singles of the year.[36]

Release and promotion[edit]

MTV reported in March 2007 that the album was planned for release in October 2007.[6] MTV subsequently reported on October 15 that the album's release had been delayed to the first quarter of 2008.[7] On November 13, 2007, Simpson told MTV News at CosmoGIRL!'s Born to Lead Awards that the album was completed (although she was continuing to write) and that it would be released in March 2008, with its first single, the Timbaland-produced "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)", preceding it in January. She said that the video for the song would be filmed in December.[8] Simpson's official website stated on November 21, 2007 that "Outta My Head" would be digitally released on December 11.[37] The song was made available for listening on AOL Music beginning on November 30.[38] In an interview on the Johnjay and Rich radio show in Arizona on January 30, 2008, Simpson said that the album would be released on April 15. The song "Boys" from the album was also played for the first time.[39] On the KISS FM DreX Morning Show in Chicago on February 21, Simpson premiered another new song, "Little Miss Obsessive", on which she sings with Tom Higgenson of Plain White T's. The song is said to be more rock-oriented than "Outta My Head".[40] On February 25, Simpson's website announced that "Little Miss Obsessive" would be the next single.[41] Speaking on the radio station Q102 on March 3, Simpson said that the release date would be April 22.[42] Simpson began promoting the album with performances at clubs, accompanied by a DJ[39][43] and her guitar player,[39] in late January.[43] The first of these club performances was at the Myst nightclub in Scottsdale, Arizona on the night of January 30–31, where she performed three songs from Bittersweet World in addition to "L.O.V.E." (2005).[44] She performed the last of these four-song club shows in Miami, Florida on the night of March 8–9.[45] Following the club tour, she said that she planned to go on a House of Blues tour with her band beginning in late April 2008.[46]

In addition to her club tour and many radio interviews, Simpson has made in-store appearances at Wal-Mart to meet with fans, and she has a number of television appearances planned for the weeks prior to and surrounding the album's release on April 22: on Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards on March 29,[3] Total Request Live on April 17 (where she gave an interview and performed "Little Miss Obsessive"),[47] the Today show on April 18 (where she gave an interview and performed "Little Miss Obsessive", along with her 2004 song from her debut album Autobiography, "Pieces of Me"),[48] Dance on Sunset on April 20 (performing "Little Miss Obsessive"),[49] The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on April 21 (where she performed "Little Miss Obsessive"),[50] Dancing with the Stars on April 22 (where she performed "Boys"),[51] The Ellen DeGeneres Show on April 24 (where she gave an interview[52] and performed "Little Miss Obsessive"), and Jimmy Kimmel Live! on April 24[3] (where she performed "Little Miss Obsessive"). She subsequently went to Europe for more promotion,[3] performing "Outta My Head" on television shows in the United Kingdom and Germany. In connection with the album release, clothing retailer Wet Seal launched a collection of tops designed by Simpson on April 22. According to Simpson, her inspirations for Bittersweet World were reflected in the clothing line. Wet Seal also planned to sell Bittersweet World in its stores and on its website, and planned to hold a contest for which the grand prize was to include a trip to meet Simpson and attend one of the concerts on her planned tour.[53] Simpson's 12 date summer tour was subsequently cancelled. OK! Magazine reported on May 31 that Simpson cancelled her summer tour due to her pregnancy. On July 4, Simpson was scheduled to perform for The TODAY Show's Summer Concert Series,[48] but that performance was also cancelled.

Singles[edit]

In early 2008, the song "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)" was released as the lead single off Bittersweet World. The song was well received by critics and fans. An EP including the songs "Rule Breaker" and "Catch Me When I Fall" was released on February 2008 to support the release. Also a music video was released, and it was a hit on YouTube having more than six million views. The song didn't chart as high as her past lead singles, although it hit high positions in international charts.

On February 25, Simpson announced on her website that "Little Miss Obsessive" was going to be released as the second single. The song features Plain White T's lead vocalist Tom Higgenson. On March 11, 2008, the song was released to mainstream radios. No music video was released to support the release, although it peaked higher than the lead single "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)".

Other notable songs[edit]

The song "Boys" received a lot of speculation as the third single off the album, due to being named as a single in many ads for her album. Although Simpson stated in a May 2008 interview on a fan club website that "Boys" and "Rule Breaker" would be released as singles, she later stated in an August 2008 interview that "Little Miss Obsessive" would be the last single. The song was performed by Simpson on many TV shows during the album release week and it reach the # 1 position in Billboard Bubbling Under Singles.

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 67/100[54]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[55]
Billboard (mixed)[56]
Digital Spy 3/5 stars[57]
Entertainment Weekly B[35]
Los Angeles Times 1.5/4 stars[58]
NY Daily News 3/5 stars[59]
Newsday C−[60]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[33]
Slant Magazine 2.5/5 stars[61]
USA Today 2/4 stars[62]

The album received mixed to positive reviews. Rolling Stone gave Bittersweet World three out of five stars in its review, saying that Simpson had "skillfully shift[ed] her crunchy, guitar-driven pop to eighties-influenced electro-rock with the help of Timbaland and the Neptunes' Chad Hugo."[33] People gave the album a very positive review, with three and a half out of four stars; it described Bittersweet World as "shockingly good" and as "sweet revenge on all [Simpson's] critics", and it noted the album's "dance-pop direction".[31] Entertainment Weekly compared Simpson's "latest incarnation" to Gwen Stefani, but it gave the album a positive review and a "B" rating, saying that the album was filled with "polished hooks and pretty melodies" and had a "giddy neon energy".[35] Billboard said that on Bittersweet World, Simpson "just wants to have a good time", and, in an ambivalent appraisal, said that the album "is a party worth attending, but not much is missed if your invite got lost in the mail."[34] According to The New York Times, the album features "songs with crisp beats, teen-seeking choruses and cheerfully obvious lyrics", and is both "calculated" and "catchy".[63] The Houston Chronicle gave the album a positive review and three out of four stars, emphasizing its '80s influence and saying that, "at its best, Bittersweet World plays like the solo record Gwen Stefani has been trying to make for years.".[32] The Dallas Morning News gave the album a B rating, describing it as "seductively inauthentic" but also saying that Simpson was "more listenable than ever".[64] Digital Spy called the album "Easily the best album made by a Simpson sister".[65]

According to Newsday, which gave the album a grade of C-, "Ashlee Simpson takes odd, anachronistic musical parts and makes a big mess."[60] Rashod Ollison of The Baltimore Sun wrote, "Simpson's colorless voice adds absolutely nothing to the admittedly catchy tracks, which recycle just about every trend heard on mainstream pop radio."[66] Evan Davies of Now Magazine wrote, "Bittersweet is another testament to the fact that Simpson has little to offer, this time taking the form of an edgeless, forgettable pop rock that desperately tries to hit the mark but almost always falls short."[67] Allison Stewart of The Washington Post wrote that "Bittersweet World feels reactive and very, very empty, as if it swung at every passing trend and missed."[68] Dan Gennoe of Dotmusic wrote that "she's got an album which for all its sing-along moments is neither catchy nor extreme enough to be exceptional."[69] Elysa Gardner of USA Today, giving the album two out of four stars, called it "a collection of bouncy, banal homages to the '80s" and wrote that Simpson, "aided by Timbaland, The Neptunes' Chad Hugo and others, channels Debbie Harry, Madonna and Toni Basil about as well as any girl who could afford the help."[62] IGN wrote that Simpson seemed "confused, awry, and decidedly astray in terms of discovering her own unique personality and sound. Until she's able to establish her own distinct entity, Ashlee is destined to be another forgotten footnote on the fickle pop front."[70] Andy Gill of The Independent only gave the album one star and wrote, "Her voice is all attitude and no emotion, a textbook case of style over substance – and given the paucity of style, that's as insubstantial as it gets."[71] Blender critic Ryan Dombal wrote, "in the quest to make overly bronzed twentysomethings sweat, this endearing pseudo–rebel loses much of the little–sister angst that made her so appealing in the first place." Tom Young of Orange United Kingdom described Simpson as an "enigma for the UK audience" and that Bittersweet World "does nothing to clear up her purpose."[72]

Chart performance[edit]

Bittersweet World debuted at number four on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling about 47,000 copies in its first week.[73] This was a much weaker debut than those enjoyed by Autobiography (398,000 copies)[74] and I Am Me (220,000 copies),[75] both of which debuted at number one.[73] In the U.S., Bittersweet World has sold 126,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[76]

Track listing[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Bittersweet World.[77]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)"  
3:37
2. "Boys"  
3:32
3. "Rule Breaker"  
  • Simpson
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz
  • Timbaland
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz[a]
3:20
4. "No Time for Tears"  
  • Simpson
  • Hugo
  • Kenna
  • Hugo
  • Kenna
3:37
5. "Little Miss Obsessive"  
  • Simpson
  • Jim Beanz
  • Victor Valentine
  • Karl Berringer
  • Puig
  • Berringer
  • Jim Beanz[a]
3:42
6. "Ragdoll"  
  • Simpson
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • White
  • Jim Beanz
  • Timbaland
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz[a]
  • Kenna[a]
3:34
7. "Bittersweet World"  
  • Simpson
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Kenna
  • Timbaland
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz[a]
4:10
8. "What I've Become"  
  • Simpson
  • Kenna
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz
3:51
9. "Hot Stuff"  
  • Simpson
  • Hugo
  • Kenna
  • Jim Beanz
  • Hugo
  • Kenna
3:14
10. "Murder"  
  • Simpson
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz
  • Timbaland
  • Logan
  • Harmon
  • Jim Beanz[a]
4:02
11. "Never Dream Alone"  
  • Simpson
  • Kenna
  • Kenna
  • Simpson
  • Harmon[b]
3:19
Total length:
39:58
Notes

Charts[edit]

Chart (2008) Peak
position
Australian Albums Chart[81] 41
Austrian Albums Chart[82] 55
Japanese Albums Chart[83] 41
German Album Charts [84] 88
Irish Albums Chart[85] 16
UK Albums Chart[85] 57
US Billboard 200[86] 4

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ashlee Simpson : Album : Bittersweet World". AshleeSimpsonMusic.com. Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
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  5. ^ a b Television interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, February 6, 2008.
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  54. ^ Metacritic score
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  57. ^ Digital Spy review
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  73. ^ a b Katie Hasty, "Mariah Carey Remains Atop Billboard 200", Billboard.com, April 30, 2008.
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