Review Summary: Avril's Identity Crisis
Avril Lavigne is only 29, but she has been in the music business for much longer than most pop divas’ entire careers. After Avril was signed to a major label when she was only 16, Lavigne found immediate success as a punky teenager with a flair for pop melodies and lyrics that were personal enough for solitary nights in your bedroom, but accessible enough to be successful on the radio and in stores. During the course of her 13 year career, Lavigne has notched two #1 albums, and sold upwards of 30 million albums worldwide. It comes as no surprise for Lavigne to be yearning to be a teenager living the summers that she never got to fully experience the first time around. After all, at 16, Lavigne wasn’t causing trouble in malls or riding around on her skateboard, but instead she was touring the world in support of her debut album. Coincidentally, nostalgia sells. The fact that Lavigne is singing songs about longing for the summer and ‘never growing up’ probably fit well with her actual mindset, all the while satisfying her audience’s demands.
It is only fitting that we as listeners are hit with nostalgia overload during the first third of Lavigne’s new self-titled album. In order, Lavigne emphatically sings about being a legitimate rocker “let them know that we’re still rock and roll,” creating typical teenage trouble: “we’ll be running down the street yelling kiss my ass/Here’s to never growing up,” teenage love: “we were living our dream/it was you and me/and we were 17,” and teenage summers: “it’s gonna be a bitchin’ summer/we’ll be livin’ fast, kickin’ ass together.” All four tracks provide decent pop-fare, with the opener “Rock n Roll” being the single catchiest song on the entire album [it even has... a guitar solo?!]. After the first few pop tracks, we get a mixed bag from Avril, with songs that range from her best material in nearly a decade, to songs that would make even the most diehard fans question Avril’s mindset, with “Hello Kitty” and “Bad Girl” being the two main culprits. Following popular trends in music, “Hello Kitty” is a lightweight dubstep song which features Lavigne singing in Japanese in a way that even Gwen Stefani would shake her head at, while “Bad Girl” is a piece of Ke$ha styled trash-pop that features, of all people, Marilyn Manson. “Let Me Go,” her ‘mandatory’ collaboration with new husband Chad Kreoger finally answers the burning question: “what if Avril Lavigne sang a Nickelback song?” The final result of the track: it could have gone a whole lot worse, but is still an overlong, overdramatic song that never needed to be created in the first place.
It’s easy to see that this album is at the very least, choppy. As noted above, it’s frontloaded with potential radio singles, and then jumps around from genre to genre with no rhyme or reason. But perhaps when Lavigne is at her best is when she keeps it simple. Right in the middle of the Nickelback duet, the Marilyn Manson feature, and the dubstep song with lyrics being screamed in Japanese, “Give You What You Like” is a moody stripped down track that puts Lavigne’s vocals at the front of the mix, and also has the honor of being the most complete song on the entire album. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (not a BTO cover) is a straightforward juicy slice of pop-punk, and the ballads at the end of the album are, if anything, certainly more musically redeeming than some of the generic songs and questionable material on the rest of the album.
It will be interesting to see in the future if Avril Lavigne can ever relive the glory days of her teenage years; certainly the potential for such a comeback is there--her voice has matured nicely over the years, and she does her best in trying to keep up with current pop trends while still trying to show some of her pop-punk colors. But, at this point, there is no question that Lavigne is nearly all pop and no punk, even if she tries to show her ‘punk roots’ by giving someone the finger, or by getting emotional in her ballads. She is genuine - that seems to be the one thing that Lavigne has always had a firm grasp on in her music (she honestly believes that she is still a teenage punk princess). But, once she finally decides to accept that she has become a full-fledged pop star, the results in her music will be much more consistent and satisfying. Until then, we are stuck with an artist who after more than a decade of making music has yet to create her masterpiece.