After latest metamorphosis, new Duff is most wanted

Adam Griffiths

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Credit: Ron Soltys

The last time we heard from Hilary Duff, she was bursting out of her pre-teen, bubble gum pop shell with a 13-track greatest hits album.

Alas, Radio Disney Duff is no more.

With the wispy locks and perfectly airbrushed bleakness of her former life retired to cable syndication, Duff has graduated to the more sophisticated ex-bashing and heartbreak-wrenching of young adulthood on her latest, Dignity, which is more “Desperate Housewives” than “Lizzie McGuire.”

While Duff managed to evade tabloid reporters and paparazzi during her breakup with Good Charlotte vocalist Joel Madden and the divorce of her parents, both events are fuel for the young contemporary flame that drives her fourth release in almost four years. While her starlet peers (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, to name a few) check into rehab and plaster their mess all over the Hollywood scene, Duff turns her experiences into serious, old-fashioned pop.

Dignity has it. It’s a modern throwback to the discotheque. Hints of Kylie Minogue and, surprisingly, Madonna abound. Duff, who co-wrote all but one of the album’s tracks, and her slew of popular producers (i.e. Kara Dioguardi, who is responsible for the latest Christina Aguilera album, Katherine McPhee’s debut and Ashlee Simpson’s sophomore release) know what they’re doing.

From the Pussycat Doll sultriness of “Stranger” and the nightclub chic “With Love,” the first single off Dignity, to the more personal “Gypsy Woman” attack on her father’s other woman and techno-laced “Happy,” Duff shows she’s not the curly-haired bopper she once was. There’s an edge. There’s vengeance. A bitch is born, to put it honestly.

On the title track, she drives it home and attacks her fellow pop princesses. “It’s not news when you got a new bag/It’s not news when somebody slaps you/It’s not news when you lookin’ your best,” she accuses.

For all the strides she takes and hit tracks, Dignity does have its growing pains. “Never Stop” and “Between You and Me” are the ’80s pop frazzles better left in history. “No Work, All Play” sounds like it came out of the Dumpster of songs left over from her self-titled sophomore release.

Dignity isn’t a scandalous, over-sexed collection of anthems from a ripening celebrity. Duff delivers the satiating balance of teen pop and nostalgia surely destined for the next season of “The Hills.” There’s a sparkle of hope for her future as a performer on each track, and they collectively shine brighter than what most of the pop singers topping charts today have to offer.

“I’m smarter than this and know I’m better than this,” she swoons on “Danger.”

“It’s tough to resist.”

Contact ALL reporter Adam Griffiths at [email protected].