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She's young enough, cute enough, just talented enough without being challengingly original. The American Family Values crowd can perve safely. Their new darling is not porno. She's just another pretty girl in a school uniform with plaits and a few hot songs.
Hilary may be the new Britney, but that doesn't mean she's a clone. Unlike Britney, she can act well enough to work in movies too. Unlike Britney, she seems comfortable with fame, and able to handle its consequences without embarrassing herself constantly.
So basically, what we have, instead of Britney's little girl lost, is a mature and more responsible take on a winning formula. There's no "oops" at all about Duff - her latest pop rock album (self titled this time) is a perfect fit with the musical times.
The first single, "Fly", echoes the rock mainstream as epitomised by Coldplay (everybody's doing it), but the song's message is positive, poppy, and uplifting.
And thankfully, Duff's songwriters have come up with more than just this smash hit single. The rest of the album is also highly listenable. "Do you want me" is surprisingly funky. The rest of the CD is filled up with pensive, alternative-flavoured verses sung with Dido-style softness, and hooky if predictable choruses that give each track a bit of a rock kick (take a listen to "Weird" in the clips box.) Her sister penned a couple of the tracks, notably the bitchy "Mr James Dean".
Hilary's strengths - namely being very cute, having a good voice, and knowing how to use it without squeaking or grunting too much - are well-suited to this kind of songwriting. The producers have taken what's cool now, and was once "alternative", and sold it in a pleasant pop package to the music mainstream. Her updated sound is more grown up, which means her fans (who're probably also more grown up now) will keep buying her music.
Duff is not to be dismissed just yet. But is she too manufactured to be of any real musical interest? Perhaps not, if her producers keep moving with the musical trends.
- Jean Barker
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