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Never underestimate the cunning of a grown man who doesn’t want a real job: It’s entirely possible that Mathew Knowles and Joe Simpson have been studying R&B and kiddie pop for so long that they are able to put together albums of music appropriate for young female singers even better than young female singers themselves. It would certainly explain why each man’s daughter has created a unique failure by asserting her independence.
Beyoncé Knowles and Jessica Simpson are the most unashamed daddies’ girls in the music business. Short of allowing themselves to be bounced on knees in public, both women display affection for their dads and express gratitude toward them at every given opportunity. Although the singers’ fathers have managed their kids’ respective careers thus far, B’Day, Beyoncé’s sophomore album, and A Public Affair, Jessica’s second proper album since she became a semi-respectable artist, were recorded amid rumors that both starlets were scuttling their overbearing papas.
This, of course, led record buyers to expect both albums to be awesome—filled with the sort of creative risks that only someone reveling in independence can offer. After all, the artistic result of Michael Jackson getting papa Joe Jackson out of his life was Thriller.
In the liner notes of B’Day, Beyoncé thanks “daddy,” but a few lines down, she shouts out to “PopPop” for upgrading her album not once, but twice, and proclaims he is “the coolest man alive.” But PopPop isn’t Mathew Knowles, who wasn’t around when B’Day came to life—Beyoncé has hinted that the acknowledgment was meant for her boyfriend, Jay-Z.
B’Day isn’t as bad as most of its reviews indicate—and it’s certainly selling well—but it’s hardly the high-sheen, undeniable smash that 2003’s Dangerously in Love was. Sean Carter’s influence is all over B’Day, but Beyoncé’s new daddy is no match for her father. Jay knows hip-hop, but the touches he adds to this R&B disc—the inclusion of a ton of top hip-hop producers and a bunch of street terms that Beyoncé’s little country self could never come up with on her own—are less than inspired. And if he’s the one who convinced Beyoncé to rap, she should dump him at once and run back into the loving arms of the man who gave her life.
Beyoncé flashed her dad a manicured middle finger by recording B’Day in just two weeks’ time without even telling him. But haste makes waste, Beyoncé—you can’t knock out an album in a fortnight and expect it to not be a little bit shitty. “Kitty Kat” is a song about a man who leaves Beyoncé at home while he parties, thus neglecting her “body body.” This leads her to skip out and take her “kitty kat” with her. (Video featuring some helpless puss being stroked suggestively by Beyoncé is forthcoming.) The Neptunes track has a nice kick, and Beyoncé’s voice skips around the regimented beat, in contrast to the steady, sparse background. Then comes her rap verse—“Got diamonds on my neck/Got diamonds on my records/Since 16, I was comin’ down ridin’ Lexus/How you gon’ neglect this?/You is just a hot mess”—and it’s almost understandable why that cad left what Beyoncé calls her “sweet little nooky” at home.
“Deja Vu,” in contrast, is great; the Rodney Jerkins track finds the producer dropping his usual overproduction for, as Beyoncé tells us, bass, hi-hat, 808, and Jay. PopPop has some horrible moments, like trying to stretch the word “argument” into four syllables, but he also scores some clever ones—radio censors still haven’t figured out the line, “I used to run base like Juan Pierre.” And Beyoncé does some of the best technical singing of her career, abandoning her tea-kettle highs and little-girl-pitched vocals for growls and a lot of strong, crystalline notes.
Nothing on B’Day threatens “Crazy in Love,” the summer smash of a decade that defined her solo debut, Dangerously in Love. The only thing that comes close is B’s re-teaming with “Crazy” producer Rich Harrison on “Suga Mama,” which matches up a track from little known ’60s Michigan funk outfit Jake Wade and the Soul Searchers with Harrison’s trademark percussive thwack. Beyoncé puts herself in the shoes of someone who has to shell out for sexual favors, which, considering she’s Beyoncé and all, is adorable. “Damn. That was so good, I wanna buy him a short set,” she says at the start of the song, then goes on to ask her boy toy “What you want me to buy—my accountant’s waiting on the phone.” The track isn’t as stirring or infectious as “Crazy,” but then almost nothing released in the past few years has been. Still, B plays a country sugar mama that would make Howlin’ Wolf proud.
Harrison comes through, yet again, with “Freakum Dress,” which is all whistles, sound board humming and a mix of rock and go-go drums, but the lyrical concept—every girl has an esteem-boosting ’ho dress in her closet—is beyond rescue. It also highlights one of Beyoncé’s quirks—she’s always trying, and failing, to coin a phrase. Stop saying “freakum dress,” Beyoncé. “Freakum dress” is not going to happen. You got credit for “bootylicious” (even though Snoop Dogg technically came up with that particular term), so stop while you’re ahead.
“Get Me Bodied,” is another instance of Beyoncé struggling to create a catch phrase—here she tries to make a slang term for killing mean “dancing,” but the track is elevated by Swizz Beatz, who has perfected his sensory overload approach to production. Instead of allowing different sounds to take center stage, as in the past, every noise is at a similar volume, allowing each individual listener’s brain to edit the track down to elements they find most interesting.
On “Green Light,” the Neptunes do Beyoncé dirty with a leftover Clipse beat; she, in turn, does herself a disservice with “Upgrade U,” where she tells some dude that she’s gonna uplift him like “Martin did for the people.” “Irreplaceable” is a throwaway crossover ballad without a single redeeming element, though the image of Beyoncé confronting a cheatin’ partner in her front yard (“It’s my name that’s on that Jag/So remove your bags/Let me call you a cab,” she sings) almost makes it worth it.
On Dangerously in Love, Beyoncé closes out the disc with a gospel-influenced song entitled “Daddy.” She describes her father as loving and caring and even proclaims, “I want my unborn son to be like my daddy/I want my husband to be like my daddy.” With any luck, she’ll want her next set of collaborators to be more like him, too.
Jessica Simpson could never dodge Joe Simpson for a whole two weeks, but tabloids have been speculating that the newly divorced singer has asked the former Baptist pastor and amateur paparazzo to step back a little bit and, like, let her live her own life. And in fact, the surest sign that Joe Simpson had little to do with A Public Affair is that it’s got a song about Jessica’s A instead of her T. You see, in addition to knowing best, Jessica Simpson’s father also knows breasts. “She’s got double Ds!” he said in a 2004 interview with GQ, happy to talk up his daughter’s rack.
On “Push Your Tush,” the former Mrs. Lachey is having a hoedown, and, unfortunately, we’re all invited. She’s drinking lemonade, flirtin’ with farm boys, and dancin’. “You want to impress a hick?” she asks. “Then make it go tick tick tick tick tick!” The Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis track isn’t half bad—it’s even got an Ohio Players sample that pauses in the middle for a banjo solo—but the overly throaty vocals muck it up. Ad-libs from the star about having a “hootenanny” and screeching—no lie—“cock-a-doodle-doo” are just wrong.
But it’s a wrong that pales in the context of an album full of them. Jessica’s record is indeed as bad as its sales suggest—when you’re barely outselling Paris Hilton, you’ve got trouble—and not even Us Weekly covers boasting “news” of her purported breakup with John Mayer have given A Public Affair a boost. The title track, a feel-good roller-skating jam, has won Jess a lot of flack for being a Madonna knockoff. It’s a well-deserved critique: It’s “Holiday” mixed with a taste of “Hung Up,” and it’s horrible. But Simpson isn’t finished with the ’80s. She also covers a song from way back when she was pre-born—Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” Jessica pulls out her husky voice for this one, and though she gets through it without completely trashing the original, the track is hard to distinguish from karaoke.
Like OutKast and Christina Aguilera, Jessica hops on the whole old-timey, vaguely ragtime-era popular music trend on “Swing With Me.” Again, she sounds like she’s trying to be Madonna—in this case she’s mimicking Breathless Mahoney, Madge’s character from Dick Tracy. “Tension just starts to grow/As I’m spinnin’ and my bloomers show,” Jess sings as a bunch of sassy horns rage in the background and she gets to simultaneously show off both her sex appeal and her historical knowledge of undergarments.
On “Fired Up,” Jessica chooses to rely on her “sexy” voice instead of just singing. She’s struggling to copy Britney Spears circa “I’m a Slave 4 U” and putting way too much work into being a vixen. It’s good evidence that Joe might not have been in the studio while Jess was laying down her vocals—when Dad is around, she exudes a more effortless sort of sensuality. “Jessica never tries to be sexy,” Joe told GQ. “She just is sexy.”
In fact, whenever Joe’s around, Jessica never seems to be trying too hard—from playing up her dumb-blonde-ness on TV to making halfway decent pop records, all her best career moves have come courtesy Daddy. Joe may have a creepy habit of looking down his daughter’s shirt, but he still seems to knows Jessica better than she knows herself.CP