Image © Geffen Records 2004
Image © Geffen Records 2004
(01 November 2004) Considering the formularised pop that her elder sister Jessica churns out, not much was expected from Ashlee when she released her debut album Autobiography (Geffen (UK), 2004) in the summer of 2004. That the resulting CD is as good as it is--a bona fide rock album of considerable energy and skill --must go down not only to Ashlee’s energetic vocal performance and direct lyric writing, but to the talent of her collaborators, especially multi–instrumentalist / producer John Shanks and co-writer and backing vocalist Kara DioGuardi who have fashioned some of the songs into minor pop / rock classics.
Despite her black hair--dyed to make her look as unlike Jessica as possible--the parallels with Avril Lavigne are obvious. Both perform rock with a chart-friendly pop edge, but whereas Avril has moved down a darker, punk /metallic path, Ashlee's music jangles as often as it crunches and a number of the songs on this album suggest a strong Beatles influence. Whether this influence is hers, or her collaborators, this certainly gives the music more variation than that of her blonde rival. Indeed looking at the cover art, it is hard to tell that a rock album is inside.
But a rock album we certainly get. The title track opens the album in mid-paced, hard rocking style, Ashlee's very feminine rock voice spitting the aggressive lyrics of the chorus in ear-catching style. Acoustic guitar opens the catchy single "Pieces of Me" – the song has a similar feel to Avril Lavigne's own ultra-catchy debut "Complicated." The excellent "Shadow" is next up, its lyrics openly commenting on her relationship with her sister and parents, while the song itself has a distinct 70s feel, before the crunching "Lala"--a song obviously about sex--picks up the pace and the volume of it’s guitars, as well as throwing an exciting middle eight. "Love Makes the word goes round" starts as a ballad before developing into an up-tempo jangley rocker with a winning chorus. "Better Off" promises to be an album filler for its first few bars. But no, another excellent chorus keeps the song afloat.
"Love for Me" sounds for all the world like Aerosmith--a slightly toned down version for sure--but Ashlee's vocal is delivered with a Tyler-esque swagger. "Surrender" is rather more modern in tone, but once again includes an excellent chorus, a meaty guitar riff and a brief but effective guitar solo. "Unreachable," with its piano and Mellotron-like keyboards suggests the Beatles delightfully, while "Nothing New" is another hard rocking pop song with plenty of tension in its verse leading to a great chorus. "Giving it away" is rather more wistful--even a little folky--its fast acoustic guitar providing a welcome moment of variation without disturbing the overall tone of the album. The final track of the album proper--"Undiscovered"--suggests U2's ballads with its repetitive guitar and droning keyboards. The reviewed version of the album also includes two good bonus tracks--the ultra-hip "Harder Everyday" and the sing-song punk / metal of "Sorry."
While Ashlee may not have a voice that will win her awards, she delivers her vocals with conviction and passion, and she and her collaborators have created on album of likable, catchy pop / rock of amazing consistency that should gain her hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic. Aside from a few moments of lyrical truth, the album lacks a little depth, and one has to wonder whether people will still be playing it in
twelve months time, but it is massively entertaining and deeply impressive nonetheless.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England