Review: Hilary Duff Makes Strong Pop Comeback With ‘Breathe In. Breathe Out.’
Hilary Duff has been out of the game for a while. Once a teen queen of cheery pop songs, Hilary put her career on hold after releasing her last album, Dignity, in 2007. Dignity represented an impressive shift in sound for Hilary: While her prior albums had fit neatly into the teen pop and pop rock genres respectively, her third album was her first to be ahead of the game. It introduced a new wave of dance pop before artists like Lady Gaga popularized it for the larger public.
Eight years down the road, Hilary now has a three year old son, an ex-husband, plenty of TV shows and movies under her belt, and a lot more things to say. She began working on Breathe In. Breathe Out. in fall 2013, and shared fans in the process via frequent posts on Instagram and Twitter. We got our first singles in mid-2014. Although “Chasing The Sun” wasn’t the impactful comeback single fans had hoped for (it was a bit mellow and safe), “All About You” was catchier and more fun. But the folk pop singles didn’t do as well, perhaps, as Hilary’s label had hoped, and she returned to the studio to change the sound a bit. Hilary ended up in Sweden with singer-songwriter Tove Lo and a more dance pop intent.
Breathe In. Breathe Out. is the glossy result. With nearly a decade since Hilary’s last album, it wasn’t clear what fans should expect, but fear not: The songs are energetic and upbeat, and cover a range of emotions relating back to Hilary’s tumultuous personal life: Love, heartbreak, loss, empowerment, and strength.
On first listen the album may sound almost too perfect – the songs are very constant and safe. They’re each within the three minute range, with similar dance-worthy beats, all seeming to fit into a successful pop formula. However, give Breathe In. Breathe Out. a second listen and the true dynamics of the songs will come out. Hilary and her co-writers have drawn influences from various places, and the songs combine slick dance pop with the folky, earthy sound Hilary was originally going for. The album took nearly two years to craft, and that’s clear particularly when you add in the bonus tracks. While the standard album tracks tend to lean more towards the sparkly dance pop – and may feel too middle-of-the-road and consistent – the later songs and bonus tracks represent the folky sound Hilary had been going for in 2014. They help give the record some more diversity and interest.
Hilary uses more of her vocal range here. Her previous album was impressive in part due to her newfound lower singing register. The songs on Dignity were sung a bit deeper, and gave Hilary a mature and smoky sound. On Breathe In. Breathe Out., Hilary uses a lot more of her upper register again – singing higher and better than before – but also knows when to dig deeper and sing lower. Compare a song like “Tattoo” to the verses of “Confetti,” and you’ll hear a fuller scope in singing style and vocal range.
All in all, Breathe In. Breathe Out. is a very strong comeback after such a long pause. The album combines elements of each of Hilary’s previous album, along with new influences, modern sounds, and diverse lyrical themes. It might not grab you immediately, in the way her previous two albums did, but it will steadily make its way into your heart until the songs are stuck in your head and on repeat all day. Breathe In. Breathe Out. is an album that was well worth the wait, and a great addition to Hilary’s music catalog.
Track By Track
“Sparks” – In April, Hilary released her official lead single, “Sparks,” co-written by Tove Lo. It makes for a good opener for Breathe In. Breathe Out. The song starts with a ping-pongy beat offset by whistles, and by the chorus it feels like a surefire club banger. It’s a fun love song, and a bit sexier than what Hilary would have sung eight years ago; indeed, some songs on the album may starkly remind you that you’re not listening to Lizzie McGuire anymore.
“My Kind” – The second song on the record somewhat recalls the sound of Gwen Stefani’s 2014 single, “Baby Don’t Lie.” “My Kind” is a polished mid-tempo song, and though not a standout on Breathe In. Breathe Out., it will grow on you with each listen.
“One In A Million” – Our second Tove Lo co-write is “One In A Million.” The song is super dancey and uptempo with defiant lyrics. Hilary sounds vulnerable yet strong, recognizing that even though a loved one doesn’t give her the attention she deserves, she is unique and amazing. Hilary’s vocals sound younger, similar to how she sounded on Metamorphosis 12 years ago.
“Confetti” – A major highlight on Breathe In. Breathe Out. is “Confetti,” a dynamic song that builds from soft, tinkly verses to big imagery-filled choruses. Hilary is “free-falling through all of the twilight” as she thinks about a new crush and young love. “Confetti” is a cute, fully realized song; it sounds like an epic dance pop song that could go down in history if released as a single.
“Breathe In. Breathe Out.” – The title track is another highlight on the album. Hilary’s vocals during the verses have a good groove as she replays memories, good and bad, over pulsing music. She makes the situation clear in the chorus when she sings, “I made a top 10 list of all the things I miss, you’re lying eyes and lips – they didn’t make it.” And in all the bad that’s happening around her, Hilary admits, “Until I feel alight, I’m gonna fake it.” Hilary sounds weak but strong, a woman that has been through a relationship and is just surviving the aftermath. “Breathe In. Breathe Out.” has a great low-key vibe that keeps the attention on the confessional lyrics.
“Lies” – Hilary’s first co-write on the album is “Lies,” another standout on Breathe In. Breathe Out. It evidently documents the struggles between Hilary and now-ex-husband Mike Comrie, as she asserts that she’s done with his lies. The music is led by a strong beat and chants of “ayee yaa yaa.” The choruses end with unexpected but perfectly placed horns. They give the song extra vigor and texture, adding to the fed up mood of the lyrics.
“Arms Around A Memory” – The seventh song was written by songwriter Matthew Koma. It starts with a slow, floaty sound, creating the effect of drifting through memories you can’t quite reach. As Hilary tells us, memories won’t comfort you the way a person in the present can – “you can’t put your arms around a memory.” The song slowly builds up towards the end of the first chorus, but never finds a full climax. Rather, it feels like it ends too soon, in a similar way to how Kelly Clarkson’s “Someone” (also written by Matthew Koma) feels prematurely cut off.
“Stay In Love” – The mood lifts again as we move on to “Stay In Love.” It has fun beat that disguises the difficult lyric content. During the highlight of the song, Hilary asks her soon-to-be ex, “Do you remember when I said I’d die for you?” Even though Hilary “thought we’d be different from the rest,” the love is crumbling apart. It’s perhaps the best Breathe In. Breathe Out. song co-written by Tove Lo.
“Brave Heart” – Co-written by Hilary, “Brave Heart” is backed by high guitar picking and a muffled drum beat. Hilary is now all alone, but she asserts that she has one thing left: her brave heart. Unlike some other tracks that feel musically crowded, this song feels like is has more room for Hilary’s vocals – the openness of “Brave Heart” suits her better.
“Tattoo” – One of the album’s most hyped tracks is “Tattoo,” co-written by Ed Sheeran. And it certainly sounds like an Ed Sheeran song – “Tattoo” is led by acoustic guitar complemented by vulnerable vocals and lyrics. Hilary sings higher here than usual, sounding angelic and delicate. The song is light and a bit folky, but the chorus builds up, giving the song extra energy. It’s a fantastic song that puts the focus on Hilary’s impressive vocals, and a highlight on the album.
“Picture This” – Perhaps the funkiest song on the record, “Picture This” opens with whistles and a fun groove. It starts off murky and sensuous, then builds up to a hand-clapping chorus. It’s a sexy song, but Hilary isn’t interested in forever with her new lover. She says, “Let’s leave it where we’ll both be missed” – she’d rather cut off a good thing than let it grow into something bad. The bridge comes in with a bang, suddenly speeding up into a crazy hoedown before returning to the smooth sound it started with. “Picture This,” co-written by Hilary, seems to have been from the folkier phase of her writing and recording.
“Night Like This” (featuring Kendall Schmidt) – The standard edition of Breathe In. Breathe Out. ends with a duet co-written by Hilary. She first mentioned “Night Like This” back in March 2014; at the time she was looking for a good male duet partner, and she eventually found him in Kendall Schmidt of Big Time Rush and Heffron Drive. It’s a different song than you what you may have expected: It builds on top of funky acoustic guitar strumming, with Hilary and Kendall trading vocals as they relate the unexpected love story. The chorus comes with a cute *clap clap,* and the pair harmonize beautifully in this subdued love song.
“Belong” – Target and certain international versions of Breathe In. Breathe Out. offered us two exclusive bonus tracks. “Belong” is a song Hilary mentioned back in September 2014. It has a tinkly guitar, strong drum, and the folky sound that defined Hilary’s 2014 singles. It’s an uplifting song about dreams, wishes, and staring down your fears. Hilary assures that “we are the young brave hearted ones” and “we are right where we belong.” If you’ve been following Hilary for the last couple of years, you may recognize the lyrics that make up the bridge: “When was the last time you did something for the first, when was the first time you did something for the last time” were the lines Hilary shared a year ago on Instagram.
“Rebel Hearts” – Our second Target bonus track is “Rebel Hearts,” which also fits the earthy sound Hilary first went for. It starts with a guitar and accordion, with Hilary shouting her worth with lines like “I’m a work of art.” She has great confidence and will “fight for who we are.” It’s an empowering raw, indie folky song with a great singalong “ooo whoa ooo oh.” Parts of the song recall “Little Talks” by Of Monsters And Men.
“Chasing The Sun” – Fanjoy editions of Breathe In. Breathe Out. came with four bonus tracks, and this is where “Chasing The Sun” ended up. Originally released last July as Hilary’s first single since 2008, the song was co-written by Colbie Caillat, and the evidence is clear: The song is a low-key, summery breezy song set to an acoustic guitar. It’s a cute track, but was underwhelming as Hilary’s “comeback single” in 2014. It works much better as an album track, and actually is more enjoyable now than it was when first released last summer.
“All About You” – Fanjoy’s second bonus track is last year’s lead single, “All About You,” co-written by Hilary. This is a fun and folky love song with a slightly hoedown feel, complimented by shouts of “hey” and a catchy chorus. “All About You” is a great song that deserved better on the charts. The strummed guitar, banjo, and stompy beat add to the cheery vibe of this love song. “All About You” is adorable and a worthy inclusion on Breathe In. Breathe Out., even if only as a bonus track.
“Outlaw” – The fourth and most exclusive Fanjoy bonus track is a song Hilary wrote early on in the making of her album. She mentioned it on social media in fall 2013, and fans have since been excited to finally hear the song with the intriguing title. “Outlaw” has a super fun and funky sound to it, offset by feisty lyrics about how bad Hilary’s day is and she just wants to escape it all. Hilary says, “I just want to be myself” and says she is “mugging in my getaway car.” It’s an excellent song, and absolutely worth getting.
“Chasing The Sun (Dave Audé Remix)” – Our final Fanjoy bonus track is Dave Audé’s remix of “Chasing The Sun.” He extends the song a full minute longer, giving it a sped-up beat. The song isn’t any better for the changes, but the newfound energy is nice.
Breathe In. Breathe Out. Highlights: “Confetti,” “Breathe In. Breathe Out.,” “Lies,” “Stay In Love,” “Tattoo,” “Rebel Hearts,” “All About You,” “Outlaw”
You can buy Breathe In. Breathe Out. on iTunes now. You can also pick it up (and get exclusive bonus tracks) from Target and Fanjoy.