The sk8r girl gives her music career another shot, and the results sound kind of familiar.
Is it possible for Avril Lavigne to be relevant in pop music anymore? It’s an interesting question because it implicitly asks what made her relevant in the first place, and in a larger sense, what makes a pop song stick with listeners at all. Sure, strong hooks are important, but there are plenty of hooky songs that never make it on the charts. Great production can bring you deep into a good song’s grasp—check Max Martin’s and Dr. Luke’s bank accounts for proof of that—but it can’t single-handedly turn a mediocre song around. Willingness to “go there” with stunts that keep yourself in the public consciousness helps (see Exhibits A-Z), but I’m not sure that kind of brilliant foolishness will make your actual song permeate through the culture.
Instead, I’d contend that the secret “it” factor is believability. We want our music to sound like it comes directly from someone’s life. It’s why no one can believe teen-pheremone princess Carly Rae Jepsen is actually 27. It’s why Lady Gaga disappears up her own Fame Monster from time to time. And it’s why a video of Britney Spears’ tuneless singing won’t stop a single person from attending her show—they’ve come to feel the music, not to hear it.
In the early 2000s, Avril Lavigne’s uncomplicated brand of mall pop resonated with sk8r bois and girls across the country. We wore ties ironically before we knew what irony was, simply because she made it seem like the natural thing to do (while performing on All That, natch). She ‘matured’ the way all pop singers tend to do on her second album, Under This Skin, striking a balance between pop sheen and weightiness that she has yet to find again. Her third and fourth albums were complete messes, going all-in on pop bangers (The Best Damn Thing) and melodrama (Goodbye Lullabye), respectively.
And that’s the weirdest thing about Avril Lavigne’s self-titled, fifth studio effort: there are times on this album where Avril actually sounds like herself again, even as she tries to co-opt every popular music trend of the last four years.
Seriously, this album has no idea what tone it wants to set, and for most of it, I get sonic deja vu. Lead single “Here’s To Never Growing Up” is yet another rewrite of the we’re-young-so-let’s-live-like-we’re-young song template, but despite its gang vocal catchiness, the song’s Peter Pan sentiments fail to resonate. It’s followed by the immensely catchy and dancy “17”, which falls short of its more Taylor-ed cousin. Then there’s “Bitchin’ Summer”, the newest contender for 2014’s unofficial “Song Of The Summer” title that’s somehow become an actual thing in the last few years. Later on, Avril almost pulls off “Bad Girl”—an ill-advised duet with Marilyn Manson that recalls Ke$ha’s riot rawk track “Dirty Love” right down to the aging, controversial rocker cameo and tinny Strokes vocal filter—on pure spunk alone. And in the album’s most ridiculous move, Avril Lavigne records a bizarre J-pop/EDM psychobabble called (wait for it) “Hello Kitty”.
Is that everything? Whew. I’m surprised Big Sean or Juicy J didn’t get a verse somewhere.
Though every single uptempo song (I’m not even going to talk about the ballads—they’re not worth mentioning) has its roots in somebody else’s style, Avril has enough of a niche in the female pop sphere that she can stamp her own bratty insignia on the tracks. She pours whiskey all over the album’s opening manifesto “Rock And Roll” and lights it on fire. She actually sounds mischievous again (even with a randomly adopted British accent) on “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”. The acoustic guitar in “Bitchin’ Summer” sounds like vintage ’02 Avril and instantly washes away my bad vibes. Lyrically, Lavigne sounds like a good drinking buddy for Ke$ha, but frames herself as a girl who probably goes home before the real recklessness starts. Though the songs are derivative, they’ve still got strong hooks and production. The pieces are all here for Avril Lavigne to make a comeback, but it remains to be seen if the radio will believe her.
Favorite Tracks: “Bitchin’ Summer”, “Hello Kitty”, “Here’s To Never Growing Up”
P.S. Someone mentioned to me that “Sippin’ On Sunshine” has a bassline straight out of the Seinfeld credits, and now that song is ruined to me forever. Enjoy it while you can.
P.P.S. Avril’s reference to Radiohead in “Here’s To Never Growing Up” sounds just as canned as when Katy Perry did it three years ago, even though I can actually imagine Avril belting out “Creep” at the top of her lungs. (Side note: it has to be, “Creep”, right? This nameless Radiohead song that every pop star seems to sing along to when they need lyrical music cred?)
P.P.P.S. I really dislike when an artist’s fifth album is their self-titled. My preference is Rock And Roll.