Achtung, baby: I'm one of those soulless cranks who likes Liz Phair's new record. A few weeks ago I argued elsewhere that the album's four Matrix-produced songs "demonstrate how much room there is inside radio-pop sheen for actual emotional content"--particularly with regard to "the everyday compromises of single-momhood." And I still believe that. But I've since seen Catherine Hardwicke's unsettling film thirteen, which uses Phair's "Explain It to Me" (from Exile in Guyville) in its final scene; rubbed against the movie's portrayal of girls-gone-wild adolescence, "Explain" reminded me that, though Phair's new stuff may be honest, it's quite without her early music's casual profundity.
Metamorphosis, the debut album by teen-TV queen Hilary Duff (not counting last year's Christmas disc or the zippy soundtrack to this spring's zippier The Lizzie McGuire Movie), is probably the Exile Phair would've made if she'd lived Duff's childhood instead of her own. That is, it's state-of-the-art girl-rock (also written and produced in part by the Matrix) whose first responsibility is to whip-smart radio-pop sheen; whatever emotional content fits inside is an added bonus. The Matrix earn their assuredly outrageous fee. Opener "So Yesterday" is as yummily strummy as Avril Lavigne's "Complicated," and "Where Did I Go Right?" is the best new Coldplay song since the Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is the Love." (Dear Chris Martin: Please reconsider your insistence on writing your own material and e-mail these folks ASAP. They will hook you up!)
Yet because Duff rules the Disney Channel and kicks it with the Olsen twins, the CD's sincerity just isn't that arresting. "If you can't do the math, then get out of the equation," she advises limply in "The Math." "I am calling you back/This is star 69." In "Sweet Sixteen" she brags, "There ain't nothin' in my way 'cept the traffic of L.A."
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I'm sure, but just imagine her where the streets have no name.