Last Christmas season, while she was going through "a really tough time," Jessica Simpson introduced her sister Ashlee to one of her favorite songs, Patty Griffin's "Let Him Fly."
"We laid there listening to the song and just cried and cried like babies," Jessica recalled. "In a lot of ways, my sister really gave me the strength to pull through this really hard time. And it was just lying there and being with her that got me through it. I knew everything would be OK. The song is about how sometimes you just have to know when to let something go. And that was that moment. And I had to sing it."
Simpson, who had just filed for divorce (see "Jessica Simpson Files For Divorce From Nick Lachey"), went on to record her own rendition of the song, which closes out her fifth album, A Public Affair, due August 29. And unlike the title track — the LP's first single — there's no question "Let Him Fly" is a statement about her failed marriage to Nick Lachey.
" 'A Public Affair' is a play on words; it's not about what you think it's going to be about," Simpson said about her single. "People probably expected [it to be about Lachey] because of everything going on in my life, but it's not about him at all. It's about me going out with my girlfriends and forgetting everything that's around me, which is paparazzi, and just having a fun night. Because [paparazzi] can ruin a night."
Jessica selected the tune as her first single after her mother suggested the roller-skating video concept (see "Jessica Simpson Finally Goes 'Public' With Longoria, Seacrest In Ratner-Directed Video").
"If my mom envisions a video from what you play her, that means it's a hit. That's how me and my sister dictate our hips — I mean hits," she said, making a classic Jessica-ism. "Hips, haha. That too!"
Simpson said any of the song's similarities to Madonna's "Holiday" were subconscious. "I think people are ready to hear something that Madonna used to do," she said. "We all need to hear that every now and again. It wasn't a sample or something I meant to do, but she did influence me and still does today. I hope to have the longevity of her career."
For her second single, Simpson's eyeing "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." It's a reworking of Dead or Alive's '80s hit of the same name in the way Rihanna's "S.O.S." is a remake of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."
"It's not a cover — it's a sample, really," Jessica explained. "I wrote the verses with Cory Rooney. ... When I did 'These Boots Are Made for Walking,' I wrote the verses from the perspective of Daisy Duke, but I didn't change the melody. But with this, we rewrote the melody and kept the chorus the same. And I'm singing in a different register, so people don't know it's me and that's kind of fun."
Simpson's not sure it will go to radio, though, as her handlers are worried it's too much of a club track. "It reminds me of that 'Waiting for Tonight' Jennifer Lopez track that everyone embraced," she countered.
The first four tracks on A Public Affair, which also include "B.O.Y." and "If You Were Mine," were tailored for the clubs, but the other nine tracks mix it up and include a few slower tunes.
"I do love singing ballads, but I took a different approach," Simpson said. "I didn't do a big string-session type of ballad I'm used to. Working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, I took more of a Janet Jackson approach. More of an 'Earth Angel' type of approach."
There is some country influence on the album, but it's not obvious, she said.
"When I wrote from my soul, there's some country in there, and that's what Jimmy Jam and Terry wanted to focus on," she said. "But it's more like how on Maxwell's last record you hear the steel guitar and the twang, but you have another beat that's driving you to listen to it. It has an influence that's a little bit folk, country, but it's like an accent."
Along with Jimmy Jam and Lewis and Lester Mendez, who produced "A Public Affair," the album also includes production by Scott Storch.
"It's called 'Fired Up,' and that basically describes the collaboration," Simpson said of the Storch track. "That came about from a quote one of my best friends, CaCee Cobb, always says: 'Let's get fired up.' So I wrote a song about it."
Simpson actually called on Cobb and other friends for "Swing With Me," which reworks Benny Goodman's 1938 swing classic "Sing, Sing, Sing."
"Cory Rooney and I were writing it and two of my friends were in the other room, and I said, 'Come in and help us come up with ideas,' " she recalled.
Jessica hopes to tour behind A Public Affair but wants to wait until at least three singles have been released, so "people get what they pay for." In the meantime, she's co-hosting the Teen Choice Awards with Dane Cook on August 20 and appearing as a guest on "The View" when Rosie O'Donnell debuts as a co-host September 5.
"I adore Rosie," Simpson said. "One of the first TV shows I did was hers. We gave away some leather pants I split on the Ricky Martin tour the night before."
Track list for Jessica Simpson's A Public Affair, according to Epic Records:
- "A Public Affair"
- "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)"
- "If You Were Mine"
- "Walkin' 'Round in a Circle"
- "The Lover in Me"
- "Swing With Me"
- "Push Your Tush"
- "Back to You"
- "Between You & I"
- "I Don't Want to Care"
- "Fired Up"
- "Let Him Fly"