Originally published on So So Gay on 4 November 2013.
It’s fair to say that French-Canadian artist Avril Lavigne is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ artist. Many people find the often feckless, flip-the-bird attitude that props up most of her more uptempo tracks rather irksome. However, as Lavigne has proven on all her previous albums, she’s also strangely adept at doing the more mature and emotional ballads; see her current single in the States, ‘Let Me Go’, a duet with husband Chad Kroeger. This is the rather peculiar musical dichotomy of Lavigne’s music.
Following 2011’s more mature Goodbye Lullaby (‘What the Hell’ aside), the 29-year-old made the conscious effort to make a more fun record with this, her eponymous fifth studio album. The singer apparently wrote a lot of material for this album, so much so that she even considered a back-to-back album release, though this idea seems to have subsequently fallen by the wayside. Whatever happens with this excess of material, it certainly seems to have been a creatively fertile period for Lavigne. Avril Lavigne features two solo writing credits for the artist (‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ and ‘Hush Hush’), while the bulk of the album finds Lavigne collaborate with Kroeger and former member of Evanescence, David Hodges.
Musically, Avril Lavigne is a rich collection of songs that showcase the singer on a real return to form, an upward trend that Goodbye Lullaby strongly hinted at. Her voice continues to be better controlled, with bigger notes, well-used harmonising and ad libs that indicate an artist who is honing her craft as her storytelling continues to be more effective. However, Lavigne’s occasional stumbling block is her lyrics, though this isn’t a problem on all her tracks by any means. Her ballads in particular, likely her more carefully thought-out creations that tap into deeper emotions, manage to avoid this pitfall. It’s normally the up-tempo numbers that sometimes display a lack of depth.
Nevertheless, Lavigne’s saving grace on her more lyrically immature moments is always her ear for a hook. In fact, Avril Lavigne is possibly her strongest album since her 2002 debut, Let Go. ‘Bitchin’ Summer’ may have a slightly laughable title and words that sing of school being out – an odd perspective bearing in mind the age of the artist – but it’s an undeniably infectious song, even featuring a pseudo-rap from the Canadian. On the album it’s followed by her current State-side single, the aforementioned ‘Let Me Go’, and this transition exemplifies the two sides to Lavigne’s music: infectious yet truculent pop-rock and earnest balladeering.
Further examples of the former include ‘Bad Girl’, where Marilyn Manson makes a surprising but brilliant appearance. His contribution is mainly restricted to yelling ‘bad girl’ in his typically grungy and growling style, but he complements Lavigne’s performance perfectly, who successfully conveys a faux-naïvety in her vocal delivery of wanting to be Manson’s ‘bad girl’. There’s also the skittish electro-pop of ‘Hello Kitty’, which features Lavigne doing a ‘meow’ that feels for all the world like an impression of Michelle Pfeiffer’s wonderful Catwoman performance. ‘17’ finds Lavigne doing her take on Katy Perry’s monster hit, ‘Teenage Dream’, and of course there are also the two singles, the brilliant ‘Rock N Roll’ and slightly less brilliant ‘Here’s to Never Growing Up’.
For the latter, there’s ‘Let Me Go’, which is also where Kroeger’s musical stylings are most noticeably felt, and not just because he joins Lavigne on singing duties. ‘Give You What You Like’ is a slightly darker adult love song, opening as it does with the line, ‘Please wrap your drunken arms around me / And I’ll let you call me yours tonight/ Because slightly broken’s just what I need…’. An understated song about a dysfunctional relationship, it feels the most non-Lavigne song on the album, but is an excellent track nonetheless. Just as the album opened on a high, it closes with the warm romance of ‘Falling Fast’ and the sublime ‘Hush Hush’, as Lavigne sings emotionally about a relationship that’s come to an end.
Avril Lavigne’s albums always feel like the two sides to her personality fighting it out, as she tries to resist growing up to some degree. With her 30th birthday round the corner, it’ll be interesting to see how much more mileage she can make from the almost arrested development perspective of her more lyrically simplistic songs. That said, if they come with such catchy melodies and are presented with appropriately feisty vocals like those here on Avril Lavigne, why fix what clearly isn’t broken? Existing fans of Lavigne will undoubtedly love this album, though it’s unlikely to win her any new ones, which is a shame since Avril Lavigne is possibly one of the best pop records of 2013.
Standout Tracks: ‘Rock N Roll’ / ‘Bad Girl (feat. Marilyn Manson)’ / ‘Hush Hush’