By Jonathan Bernstein
Updated March 30, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Andrew Macpherson

When the fairy-tale romance between Hilary Duff and Joel Madden went belly-up late last year, the Good Charlotte frontman speedily rebounded into the twiglike arms of Nicole Richie, and the world moved on. Duff, it seems, did not, and hell hath no fury like a young woman scorned. ”Did I ever do anything that was this cruel to you?” she seethes on Dignity‘s ”Stranger,” a scathing portrait of an unnamed, sociopathic ex. ”Where’s your dignity? I think you lost it in the Hollywood Hills,” she sneers on the new disc’s churning title track, a critique of an unnamed, fame-hungry backstabber. Despite her tiny, inflexible voice, Duff has a hefty catalog to her credit; she’s sold 13 million CDs and has even released a hits set — at age 19. Yet she never possessed much of a personality. But look at her now! Suddenly, she’s wanton, self-destructive, vengeful, and irate, lashing out at stalkers (”Dreamer”), sleazy older dudes (”Danger”), and creepily persistent suitors (”Between You and Me”). She’s never sounded less eager to please or more messily human. While her Lizzie McGuire character voiced unspoken thoughts via an animated alter ego, here the romantically battered Duff articulates her hurt by channeling her inner Kylie Minogue. Dignity is 100 percent electro-pop, awash in bleeping synths and multitracked Duff vocals delivered with a newfound petulance. It would be churlish not to hope for a happy ending in Hilary’s future, but on the evidence of Dignity, heartache brings out the best in her. B+