Review Summary: Playing with fire...
Hilary Duff grows up on her fourth release ‘Dignity’, her most mature and personal album ever released. Duff received writing credits on all but one song, making this her most involved recording by far. Not entirely gone are the pop-rock roots from her and her producer’s previous efforts, but most of them have made way for a dance/electro-pop sound, something that gained popularity during the mid-2000’s.
The first four tracks: ‘Stranger’, ‘Dignity’, ‘With Love’, and ‘Danger’ best exemplify her new style. They introduce us to the records outstanding track listing, with pleasing transitions to keep the upbeat dance beats flowing. The first five tracks certainly sound the best technically, having production almost good enough to hide Hilary’s talking singing voice. Duff does her best to half-sing on most of her songs, which isn’t as bad as you may expect, but it’s certainly something that may baffle some listeners. Her low voice struggles to heighten, often creating a whine when she “tries”. I’ve always enjoyed Duff’s unique voice though, and it’s not nearly as painful to listen to as stuff from her self-titled album.
‘Never Stop’ is pop-cheese. ‘All Play No Work’ welcomes itself with relaxing, nostalgic grooves. ‘Between You and Me’ is bubbly fun with very impressive progressions in its chorus. It’s one of the few tracks where the use of “real instruments” shows its strength, helping to add some personality to the song. Trombone, electric guitar, and xylophone are sprinkled throughout, each coming to the forefront for some pleasing moments. The lyrics are about rejecting unwanted romantic encounters from men, which lines up with the next track about Duff’s experience with a stalker on ‘Dreamer’. ‘Dreamer’s bum-dee-dum beat and cheery vocals ironically contrast the subject matter of being followed everywhere you go and stared down by a creepy pervert.
‘Happy’ and ‘Burned’ are notable for shifting ‘Dignity’ in a darker direction. Duff’s lyrics suddenly become introspective and emotional, both tunes backed by dramatic instrumentals. ‘Burned’s keys and bells are ominous, and ‘Happy’s heavy chords during the chorus shapes quite the jam. A lackluster unoriginal moment of Hillary harmonizing in the middle of ‘Burned’ is a good of example of some hiccups in the production found here or there in the second half of the record.
What teen-pop album would be complete without filler? ‘Outside of You’ and ‘I Wish’ don’t warrant their existence outside of padding out the track listing, and you’ll forget you’ve heard them while still listening.
‘Play With Fire’ might just be my favorite song on the record. It’s obvious this song was among the ones recorded earlier in the sessions. It works as a prototype for the rest of the album; an “is this really gonna work” kind of thing. It was released as the first single to show off a new and improved Hilary Duff, who was no longer Disney’s sweet little pop-rock princess. The ambient beeps and boops are something out of Metroid Prime’s soundtrack. The verse’s intriguing bobs and flows accompany Duff on her transition from girl to woman.
‘Dignity’ lies as a rarity of cohesive effort within a sea of mid-2000’s teen-pop trash and rises as one of the best albums of its era within it’s often despised genre. It’s certainly no true masterpiece, but it’s all we really have. A solid electropop release for the little ones.