Review Summary: The fact that she doesn’t try to make every track downbeat and super-personal makes The Best Damn Thing one of the more emotionally honest albums of the year.
Irony and pop music just don’t mix.
Ask John Lennon, he knows. Hell, ask Alanis Morissette. Ask her what irony even means
‘Girlfriend’ is the lead single and opening track from Avril Lavigne’s third album The Best Damn Thing
, the follow-up to the psycho depressive teen from hell soundtrack that was 2004’s Under My Skin
. ‘Girlfriend’ is a bitterly facetious slice of punky pop in which Avril plays the part of that spiteful bitch who steals everybody else’s boyfriend just because she can, because “I can do it better,”
whatever “it” may be. As if to drive the point home, the track’s pounding beat and hook are clearly inspired by cheerleader
anthem ‘Mickey,’ originally performed by Wayne Campbell, so anybody even slightly familiar with Avril’s rocker-chick persona should be privy to the marked contrast on display: she’s parodying something
. Just what it is, and just how well she does it, may be up for debate, but it’s fairly clear she’s not being entirely serious.
At least, it would seem to be clear. Although the irony seems to be lain on with all the subtlety of Tara Reid’s plastic surgeon, it’s clearly not thick enough for some. One parent, writing on Amazon.com, states, “I have already informed [my nine-year old daughter] she will not be allowed to buy this latest CD… having seen the video and heard "Girlfriend" several times, I am less than impressed with the message Avril is sending out to impressionable, insecure young girls everywhere.”
Even the usually liberal Washington Post had trouble with the subject matter, noting, “[‘Girlfriend’ is] the worst thing here, a nasty and regrettable slice of anti-sisterliness.”
The latter is at least right about something: ‘Girlfriend’ is the worst cut on offer, but precisely because it’s so over-the-top and satirical, using annoying buzz phrases like “she’s, like, so whatever,”
the kind of thing only people who’ve lived outside of popular culture for a number of years would say. Like your parents.
‘Girlfriend’ is one of six tracks on the album to feature the writing and production talents of Dr. Luke Gottwald, better known as the architect of Kelly Clarkson’s smash singles ‘Since U Been Gone’ and ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes.’ Luke’s production is distinctive in that it emphasises synthetic sounds over live instruments, merging electronic beats with live drum tracks (provided by Blink-182’s Travis Barker, Sum 41’s Stevo and session maestro/Vandal Josh Freese) with mixed results. Of the album’s four producers, Luke’s mixes are the more interesting and experimental, however they frequently suck the life out of what are essentially rock n’ roll tracks- this may be great for selling a melody but does little to exploit the natural energy created by well-conceived songwriting and Lavigne’s expressive, if not particularly skilful, vocals. ‘Keep Holding On’ is a stay-over from the Lord of the Eragons
soundtrack, a pop ballad which demonstrates his gift for spotting and isolating great melodies. Annoyingly, his best work is the b-side from the ‘Girlfriend’ single; ‘Alone’ was left off the album presumably because it’s so similar to ‘Runaway’ and ‘I Can Do Better,’ however it’s far more engaging than either of those lethargic rockers.
Producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls) has more success. He was drafted specifically for his work on ballads by the aforementioned bands, particularly the Goo Goo Dolls’ ‘Iris,’ although his contribution was eventually limited to just the one track. ‘Innocence’ has shades of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’ and ‘My Happing Ending,’ a hit from Under My Skin
. Cavallo’s bare, simplistic orchestral arrangement is inspired, gradually creeping into the mix as the intensity builds in the latter half. It’s easily one of the most affecting and most personal songs on the disc, catching Avril in a rare moment of vulnerability, singing: “This moment is perfect, please don’t go away/‘Cause I need you now, and I’ll hold on to it/Please don’t let it pass you by.”
Cavallo also succeeds in bringing out Lavigne’s best vocal performance, tapping into the cracked, Alanis Morissette-like style she exploited on her debut but has forsaken for a more abrasive punk-pop manner in recent years.
Butch Walker repeats his cameo performance on Under My Skin
, turning in three co-writing credits, all of which he produces himself. The ex-Marvelous 3 singer presides over the title track, a glam-infused stomper with aggressive background shouts and the cheesiest of middle sections (even by glam rock standards) in which Avril spells out, in the style of an American football cheer, her name as a pneumonic, with each letter spelling out a different way in which a girlfriend (i.e. her) deserves to be treated. Ballad and expected next single ‘When You’re Gone’ may be the best of the bunch, though it’s superficially like any number of pop-rock ballads, with contemplative lyrics lending the album a little bit of emotional depth. The theme, separation from a lover, is universal, and the lyrics simple: “I always needed time on my own/I never thought I’d need you there when I cried/And the days feel like years when I’m alone/And the bed where you lie is made up on your side.”
‘Everything Back But You’ has shades of ’99 Red Balloons’ and Sum 41 (it’s an incestuous album all the way through- Luke even lifts a guitar melody from a Marvelous 3 song), and a clever chorus in which Avril dumps her unappreciative boyfriend, singing, “you wrote: I wish you were her/You left out the “e”/You live without me,”
and then throws out all intelligence points gained by asking, cluelessly, “why are guys so lame?”
Husband and Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley produces two tracks, both co-written by Avril’s former guitarist Evan Taubenfield. His influence is notable in the chugging metallic guitars of ‘One Of Those Girls’ and the overlapping vocal lines of ‘Contagious,’ both trademarks of his own band’s sound.
If nothing else, Dr. Luke’s emergence as the main collaborator on the album removes any lingering doubts about whether or not Avril composes her own material; for the third album straight, she’s dispensed with the majority co-writers and producers, and still there’s a coherent sonic thread which runs through the songs. Thematically, there’s little continuity between them: She raps “you could do so much better” on ‘Girlfriend,’ while the very next song is titled ‘I
Can Do Better.’ The brashness of the rock tracks, by the end of which we’re in no doubt as to how self-assertive she is, are a nice contrast to more accomplished introspective tracks. Overall, the range of emotions and material on display make The Best Damn Thing
a much easier listen than the monotonous angst of Under My Skin
- and the very fact that she doesn’t attempt to make every track downbeat and super-personal probably makes it one of the more emotionally honest albums of the year.
And isn’t it ironic?