What a difference a year makes! In 2003, Hilary Duff crossed over from television to music with the light, effervescent Metamorphosis, a post-Britney teen pop album that kept things bubbly and cheerful. Not only was its innocence a bit of a relief after the highly charged sexuality of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, it was a hit, embraced by a new generation of preteens who were born in the waning days of The New Mickey Mouse Club. Despite its success, it seemed a little antiquated by the spring of 2004, when Avril Lavigne returned with a somber sequel to her trendsetting debut, Let Go, and when Jessica Simpson's little sister Ashlee turned into a star with her rock-based Autobiography, ushering in a new phase of teen pop -- one that was more mature than the bubblegum of Metamorphosis, but only in the sense that it dealt with the angst and preoccupations of early adolescence. Gone were the fluffy party tunes -- gone too was the overamped sexiness of Britney and Xtina -- and in were heavy guitars, anthemic choruses, rock beats, and songs about growing up and finding your identity. Hilary Duff and her producers were smart enough to have her go with the flow, shedding all the bubblegum trappings of her debut and releasing a second album that's a virtual companion to Ashlee Simpson's Autobiography, from its rock/dance-pop fusion to its earnest demeanor, right down to Ashlee's producer John Shanks helming a couple of tracks. This makeover may be trendy, but it's also admirable since it results in a varied, ambitious album, even if that ambition sometimes gets the better of Hilary. At 17 tracks, the album is way too long and its straight-faced seriousness can be a little oppressive at this length, particularly since Duff can't quite pull off everything she tries. While she has a likeable, girlish voice, she's not a great singer and that occasionally hurts the album -- witness how she struggles to reach her lower register on the dirge "Hide Away." Nevertheless, those very limitations are quite appealing when they're matched to the right song, whether it's a sweet ballad or on the heavy rockers, of which there are many. There's silliness here, such as the hipster putdown "Mr. James Dean," but that makes the album feel endearingly adolescent. And that's the greatest charm of Hilary Duff -- it might take itself a little seriously, it might be a little uneven, but it feels like the soundtrack to the life of a smart, ambitious, popular teenager trying to sort things out.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine