Hilary Duff’s ‘Breathe In. Breathe Out.’: Album Review

For too long, fellow Duff-lovers, we have wandered thirstily in the pop wilderness, awaiting the triumphant return of our “So Yesterday” siren. I believe it was Lizzie McGuire 3:16 which states, “Lo, unto the charts will a teen talent like no other come clean, undergo a metamorphosis and fly.” And fly she did. After tantalizing us with the underrated 2007 classic Dignity — a glimpse into a world where America got its own Kylie Minogue Hilary Duff largely went radio silent.

At last, the Duff Tales continue with Breathe In. Breathe Out. (out today,

Ironically, that may be the reason why this set  feels a little too quiet to steal focus from the trap queens currently writhing atop the charts. Power ballad “Confetti,” for example, aims for the swirling, summery, sensory-overload sound of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is A Place on Earth,” but ultimately floats rather than soars.

Even though its pleasures are a little low-key, there are some real gems here. The closest thing the album has to a club-stomper, the thankfully Tinder-free version of “Sparks,” is a really cool, unexpected jam that deserved more radio love. Duff’s voice, thin and very distinctive, has never sounded better than across BIBO, especially on the kiss-off anthems “One In A Million” and “Lies.” The restraint, rich with emotion, with which she imbues some of the sadder “Arms Around A Memory” lyrics is testament to how much she’s grown, too.

The very best song, better than anything on the radio right now even, is the title track. Sounding like the little sister to “With Every Heartbeat,” “Breathe In. Breathe Out.” is a love letter to Robyn and her entire pain-into-power-pop-poetry aesthetic. How cool is it that Hilary Duff, who got her musical start chirping Disney’s Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room tunes and Christmas carols, has grown into such a thoughtfully subtle, even cerebral, popstress?

Alas, pop is a genre where quiet cleverness counts for less than it should. Any star would be proud of such a cohesive, expertly constructed album as this — it’s pop that even grown-ups can appreciate. However, Breathe In. Breathe Out. glides by perhaps a little more glossily than it should. Ultimately, I was left wishing for at least one or two bigger songs along the lines of “All About You” that showcased Duff at her best while pushing her in new and fascinating directions.

Regardless, if Breathe In. Breathe Out. reflects where Hilary Duff is now in her musical journey, it’s reason enough to get excited. We need more people making smart pop, so don’t worry, Dufflings: the long wait has been worth it.

Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: “My Kind,” which combines the folksy charm “All About You” and the tropical sadness of Duff discography deep-cut “Holiday.”

Best Listened To: During the fall or whenever you’re feeling a little melancholy. Breathe In. Breathe Out. sounds like the soundtrack to every young person’s first move into the big city.

Idolator Score: 3/5

Jonathan Riggs