Review Summary: In her highly anticipated fourth album, Lavigne shows off her introspective side, with sub-par results.
I’ll be the first to admit the fact that I’m a pop music junkie. I never used to be, but something happened to me a few years ago that I can’t fully explain. Perhaps it was the high speed internet that I had always so dearly craved, but never had at home. Perhaps it was the fact that I did not want to go into a record store, and blatantly buy a Ke$ha album, for fear of being judged by some relentless clerk, or worse, hipster, who’ll always give me their two cents about how “music was better in the olden days.” Whatever the case may be, I am now one of the biggest mainstream pop music fans I know, and in that respect, I wanted to express my opinions on Avril Lavigne’s strangest, and softest album to date, Goodbye Lullaby.
In the past few years, mainstream listeners have been favoring synth-laden, upbeat--generally “huge” dance tracks. This is evident by Lady Gaga taking over the world, Ke$ha wishing she was a brash Lady Gaga, Rihanna doing her thing, and Katy Perry showing them all up with successful single after successful single.
But, then there’s Avril Lavigne. This is someone who has been on the music scene for almost a decade, priding herself on her punk-rock roots, and also for having a well-publicized relationship with Sum 41 lead-man Deryck Whibley for many years. Avril is unlike the aforementioned pop divas that have been so overwhelmingly popular in the last few years. She knows who she is, and it has shown in her music, which has always been more rock-oriented than pop anyways. From “Complicated” to “My Happy Ending,” Avril Lavigne has been walking the thin line that is pop-rock superstardom, something that many have tried to do over the last few years, and also something that many have miserably failed at. After all, she was always the brash one--the one who “wears the pants” so to speak, as she stated so well in 2007’s The Best Damn Thing. And most importantly, she was never the one to have someone else tell her who she should be, or what she should do.
Then came “Girlfriend.” And everything changed. For one crucial moment in time, Avril Lavigne was not only outright and brash, but she was a pop princess. She had successfully combined a rock oriented attitude song with a danceable #1 track, that anyone, be it boys or girls, could sing along to. In fact, The Best Damn Thing marked a serious change in Lavigne’s attitude, now she favored more upbeat poppy tracks about how she’s free to do whatever she wants, sometimes even, dare I say, loving guys instead of hating them? (“Hot” vs. “My Happy Ending”). It was an interesting, and a somewhat welcome change for the usually doom and gloom Lavigne, now donning blonde hair with pink highlights. And as the years passed on, many wondered, what would be her next step? Would she become the next Lady GaGa, or Katy Perry, and keep churning about danceable singles? Or would she do something else completely, experiment with things, and keep writing songs about Alice in Wonderland?
The answer is, unfortunately, none of the above. On Goodbye Lullaby, Avril takes a very safe career step. Instead of continuing her passage towards radio friendly pop music, or taking a step back and relying on her punk pop sensibilities, Avril takes a side step, favoring to release an album of mainly acoustic based tracks, that are more introspective, emotional, and raw. We’ve seen this side of Lavigne before, but mainly in small doses--most importantly and most poignantly on “Nobody’s Home” from 2004’s Under My Skin, “I’m With You” from her debut Let Go in 2002, and most recently, on “When You’re Gone” from her 2007 effort.
Through 14 tracks, Lavigne picks and torments herself at the mistakes that she’s made, mainly regarding a certain someone (Whibley), stating over and over again in a song fittingly titled “I Love You” that “you’re so beautiful/but that’s not why I love you.” She regrets missing the same certain someone in the repetitive, yet downright sad “Wish You Were Here,” crooning “All those crazy things we did/you’re always there/you’re everywhere/But right now I wish you were here/damn damn damn/what’d I do to have you here/I wish you were here.” This is a continuing theme throughout the album from beginning to end.
There are, however, some crucial exceptions to the pattern. Lavigne combines an intriguing combination of a heavy start-stop drum beat and soaring vocals to create an “I’m With You” sort of vibe on “Smile,” and opens the album with “Black Star,” a minute and a half piece regarded by many as a “beautiful, Coldplay-esque” track, but, in reality, it’s just a song about being whoever you can be with some pianos. To say the least, there aren’t any fast-paced straight up rock tracks like we saw on The Best Damn Thing, but there is one key highlight in the second track “What The Hell.”
I could write an entire review about how all pop music sounds generally alike, and every couple of years or so, someone comes along, and completely changes the game with a couple of huge singles (think Black Eyed Peas in 2009, Lady Gaga in 2008, or Britney Spears/N*Sync back in 1999). I could write about how I think that “What The Hell” is pretty typical in its structure, or how it sounds like a multitude of Max Martin produced tracks from the last year or so (see: Pink, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson). But that is, in essence, what makes this track one of Avril Lavigne’s best and one of her strongest songs that she’s ever recorded. It takes everything good about pop music these days--the synth backing line, soaring vocals, hand claps, a light danceable beat, while still somehow managing to completely rock out. In essence, it’s the sequel to “Girlfriend,” and something that the world has had a lot of for the last few years.
So what does Avril Lavigne prove on Goodbye Lullaby? Well, she certainly knows how to write a soft, acoustic ballad, that is for sure. She shows that characteristic about 9 or 10 times on her new album. In fact, there’s almost nothing to go crazy over on her new album, save “What the Hell,” hence, this is not an album that you should obtain by whatever means unless you like Avril’s softer side over and over and over again. I can’t go far enough to say that this is a “bad album.” But, to say that the album certainly could certainly use a couple of pick-me-ups is an understatement to say the least.