Avril Lav­i­gne and Hi­lary Duff: You Growl, Girls

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts - By Al­li­son Ste­wart

Can there be any doubt that in the great Gen Y High School of Life, Hi­lary Duff is a hall mon­i­tor? And that Avril Lav­i­gne is the sort of girl who beats up girls like Hi­lary Duff?

Both young women are pris­on­ers of their images and their fan bases — pre­teen Dis­ney Chan­nel fans and their slightly older sis­ters, re­spec­tively. Both have made al­bums that feel like sops to their re­spec­tive de­mo­graph­ics.

Most of Lav­i­gne’s third disc, “The Best Damn Thing,” is given over to short, breezy mall punk tracks that bor­row their faux-hawk tough­ness from Sum 41 and their declam­a­tory pom-pom pop from Gwen Ste­fani. Through­out, Lav­i­gne, 22, sings in a fake Brit-snarl that should make her sound jaded but re­ally makes her seem touch­ingly young.

She has two de­fault modes: ve­he­ment and sappy. The pop songs sound like they were writ­ten in all cap­i­tal let­ters. With lots of ex­cla­ma­tion points! “Girl­friend,” in which Lav­i­gne urges a hap­less boy to dump his girl for her (“In a sec­ond you’ll be wrapped around my fin­ger / ’Cause I can do it bet­ter”), is the worst thing here, a nasty and re­gret­table slice of anti-sis­ter­li­ness. Sappy is bet­ter: Big bal­lads such as “When You’re Gone” at least al­low Lav­i­gne to ar­range her af­fect­less voice into some fac­sim­ile of warmth, how­ever fleet­ing.

Both Lav­i­gne and Duff are prone to lec­ture. Lav­i­gne is for­ever telling boys to come here or go away. Or both. Duff is given to not-un­pleas­ant pep talks in which she comes across as a bit of a scold, as if she’s happy to help you but slightly dis­ap­pointed you couldn’t help your­self. “Dig­nity” em­ploys stan­dard elec­tronic beats and du­bi­ous con­ven­tions like the dreaded tele­phoned-vo­cal-thing to cre­ate a vir­tu­ous, cleanly scrubbed dance pop album.

As any­one who reads Us Weekly can at­test, Duff, 19, re­cently broke up with singer Joel Mad­den, lend­ing the whole en­deavor a sad­der but wiser vibe, and a sub­text best de­scribed as: Look what you’re miss­ing, guy from Good Char­lotte who dumped me. The disc lays waste to fakes, play­ers, haters, the el­derly and an at­ten­tion-hun­gry star­let who sounds an aw­ful lot like cur­rent Mad­den flame Ni­cole Richie. “Play With Fire” boasts what may be the best kiss-off in months (“I don’t have time for this, I’m off to play in Hous­ton”), even if most of Duff’s tween au­di­ence can’t ex­actly claim it for ev­ery­day use.

Both discs are rid­dled with con­tra­dic­tions. Duff has cre­ated a would-be Hol­ly­wood club album that ser­mo­nizes about the dan­gers of Hol­ly­wood clubs. It’s a thank­less task, and it sounds like it. Lav­i­gne has made a growly pop album with a sug­ary cen­ter — it’s ir­re­triev­ably catchy, and in­suf­fer­ably cal­low and dumb. Both discs seemed rigged. Nei­ther wo­man ven­tures an inch from her re­spec­tive cor­ner. And nei­ther sounds like she’s hav­ing any fun.


Hi­lary Duff seems to be work­ing through some real-life heart­break on “Dig­nity,” but she too of­ten comes across as a lec­tur­ing scold.


Avril Lav­i­gne has the snarling lyrics down pat on “The Best Damn Thing.”

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