Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Breathe In. Breathe Out. | Hilary Duff

The last time that Hilary Duff released a full-length album, the year was 2007. The first generation of Apple's iPhone was just unveiled, MySpace was still the reigning force in social media, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson were still with us, and George W. Bush was near the end of his eight-year term of confusion and destruction in the United States. Plenty has changed for the better (and some for the worse) since then, but one constant that remains is Duff's love for free-good pop music. After promises of a new album since 2008 and an ill-fated promotion jump last year, Duff has finally delivered Breathe In. Breathe Out., her fifth studio album.

The collection of selected songwriters this time around is impressive; void of Duff's longtime collaborator Kara DioGaurdi, this record includes songs written by Tove Lo, Matthew Koma, and Ed Sheeran. She and her songwriters crafted songs that revolve around the typical: love, heartbreak, sex, and the like. Lo ("Sparks," "Stay in Love," "One in a Million") and Koma ("Arms Around a Memory," "Breathe In. Breathe Out.") deliver some quality pop gems, while the Sheeran-penned "Tattoo" bleeds his influence. The vapid, heartbroken lyrics and the reliance on an acoustic guitar are dead giveaways; his formula proves inflexible, yet potent and successful. Duff does the song justice, but it's quite easy to imagine a Sheeran demo track.

Free of any true ballads, this record thrives on clean-cut, glistening synthpop that evokes influences from Duff's contemporaries. "Confetti" delivers a lively chorus similar to what Zedd and Selena Gomez delivered on "I Want You To Know," the title track sounds as if it could have been added to Taylor Swift's 1989 track list without anybody batting an eye, and "My Kind" gives a clear nod to Gwen Stefani's "Baby Don't Lie." These comparisons don't discount the infectious nature of Duff's new tracks, though. "Sparks," with its sexed-up vocals and whistled post-chorus, and "Arms Around a Memory," an energized dance track with abridged instrumental breaks, are shining representations of her unforgettable pop delicacies. 

Despite her time out of the business, the original Disney Channel princess can still pull her own weight in today's pop music scene. Nostalgia tied to Duff's previous work and anticipation due to her long-term absence help amp the appreciation for Breathe In. Breathe Out.; however, beneath all of the warm, fuzzy feelings from memories of Lizzie McGuire and Metamorphosis, a solid pop album still exists. Each sugary sweet track is like a drug: easy to digest and capable of taking a listener on a short technicolor trip. It may not be groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it contains everything expected from a Hilary Duff album: lively synthpop productions, confident (but limited) vocal displays, and buckets of fun.

Breathe In. Breathe Out. is out now under RCA Records. Exclusive deluxe editions can be found at Target department stores and online at Fanjoy.co.

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