For some reason, one image that will never escape my mind is the music video for Jessica Simpson’s single “A Public Affair” released in 2006 from the album of the same name. The video features Simpson and her friends at a rolling skate rink, and it’s part parody, part comedy and to this day makes me regret my decision of not taking up roller skating. But that song catapulted a whole new sound for the pop star, who up until that time had predominantly focused on ballads and teen pop oriented styles, with her big, clear voice and lyrics centered around love. “A Public Affair”, not just the song but the album itself, was focused on a very distinct 70’s vibe, which was a contrast to what fans were used to but it was also a contrast to what pop radio was used to. 70s or 80s pop music inspirations are all the rage now, with it being almost necessary for a modern pop star to sound like early Madonna, but back fifteen years ago, that wasn’t the case. 2006 had a very specific flavor of pop music and this definitely wasn’t it. And yet, I find that’s exactly where Jessica excelled. The more modern sounding tracks on A Public Affair fall flat, while the 70’s inspired songs take full control, whether they be upbeat and dance-y like the disco sounding tracks or toned down and more soft rock feeling. These are the songs that made this record standout and while I don’t believe it got the recognition it deserved (it received mixed reviews from critics and even Wikipedia stated that it was a “commercial flop”), this is album has a lot more to offer than just what is on the surface level and it appears to me that most people just didn’t bother looking deep enough.
One thing that definitely would have made this album a little better in terms of general listening quality would have been better track list organization. This project would have been incredible had it been split into two pieces (the dance half and the acoustic based half) and featured more interesting cover art. Regardless of the delivery however, there are so many truly wonderful songs on here, and one that particularly cements the theme of this album. “Walkin’ ‘Round In A Circle” sits at number five on the track list and upon first listen, my first thought was how this is what Fleetwood Mac would sound like if Jessica was their lead singer. Little did I know at the time that it actually does contain an interpolation of “Dreams”, Fleetwood Mac’s hit song from 1977. But this song doesn’t sound like a copycat version of that song, and even though it’s plain to hear the obvious influences, the song sounds 100% hers. Her vocals are light and breezy over the bright guitar riffs, and the midtempo drum beat is perfectly placed to keep the track balanced. And in terms of production, that’s really it. There’s not too much going on and that’s exactly what we need to break up the heaviness the dance tracks might bring. The minimal production also allows the lyrics to really shine which actually hold so much meaning here. This is undeniably the best written song on the track list, and talks in an actual inspirational way about following your dreams and not being afraid of failure. “Being redundant is never the one trick I ever wanna master” and “I’ll never get anywhere if I stay in the same place” are some simple, yet notable lines that are paired with wonderful melodies that bring them to life.
At this point in her career, Jessica Simpson had accomplished a lot but one thing many critics and fans will often overlook is her dynamism as a recording artist. Her music has always had influences of other genres and embellishments, and she has always executed it very well. But some of her best work are songs like “Walkin’ ‘Round In A Circle”: acoustics that let her vocals shine in a different way than her signature ballads do and lyrics that go beyond just romance. While we’ve seen things like this from other pop stars, the reason this song is significant is because it doesn’t sound like it’s necessarily meant to be a pop song. I know that might sound contradictory coming from a a legitimate pop artist, but it shows that Jessica is able to step outside of her usual routine and do something most pop artists are afraid of: change. Not only did she change, but she also did it successfully. There’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation and somehow she never crosses over into imitation territory, always sounding like her genuine self. Songs like these are hidden gems in her discography that I’m sure most people won’t even know about. And maybe that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.