Ashlee Simpson has always loved music. In fact, a lot of people love music; they just don't make records. Simpson, however, was to the manor -- actually, the reality-show crash pad -- born. She's the sister of superstar Jessica, daughter of super-Svengali Joe. Entertainment is her provenance. Who can blame a young woman endowed with such ridiculous good fortune for hiring the best producer money can buy?
''I Am Me" -- Simpson's sophomore effort, in stores today -- is a great John Shanks album. Shanks is a savvy pop producer who's brightened and plumped up tracks from the likes of Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow. He's also a veritable sorcerer to modestly gifted teenagers who trade in trendy radio product. Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have all utilized his services, but Shanks has outdone himself on ''I Am Me," which leaps from the speakers with such spirited anonymity a listener is tempted to ignore the irony that saturates every funkified guitar riff and ersatz punk snarl: that Simpson's audaciously titled musical statement of autonomy and defiance is somebody else's clever idea.
That's not to say that Simpson doesn't make her presence felt. She co-wrote each of the 11 tracks, and while her specific contribution is indeterminate, it's probably safe to say that Simpson is responsible for rhyming ''my tour" with ''for sure" in the disc's snotty and infectious first single, ''Boyfriend." Elsewhere, Shanks and songwriter Kara DioGuardi (another ubiquitous support staffer for the teen dreams) pay tribute to a potpourri of current sounds: Gwen Stefani on the hip-hop-flavored girl-power shout-out ''L.O.V.E.," U2 on the whiny arena-rocker ''Dancing Alone," confessional crooner Michelle Branch (another Shanks client) on the ballad ''Catch Me When I Fall."
''It seems like yesterday that my world fell from the sky," Simpson sings on ''Beautifully Broken," which celebrates the emotional learning curve associated with public humiliation. ''Every moment I'm filled with hope 'cause I get another chance." Indeed, Simpson recently returned to ''Saturday Night Live," the scene of last year's lip-synching debacle, to redeem herself with an unmistakably live vocal. Her braying performance on ''Boyfriend" was incident-free -- and a compelling case for faking it.