Review Summary: Avril Lavigne's finally growing up... and maybe she never should have.Head Above Water
is another classic case of the old phrase “be careful what you wish for.” Many people, myself included, were suckered in with this album’s leadoff single and title track, which used Avril Lavigne’s unfortunate experience with Lyme disease as inspiration for a powerful piano ballad. It was classy, well-written (if a bit generic with its chord structures), and it was a sign that we weren’t going to be getting the Avril Lavigne of yesteryear with the new album. More than anything, there was the newfound expectation that Head Above Water
would finally be the more mature version of Lavigne that many of us hoped for since the beginning of her career. So why is it, then, that her bratty pop-punk songs from 2002 still sound so much more engaging and interesting than this?
It’s clear that Lavigne approached Head Above Water
with a more “inspirational” slant in mind, and in that way, I suppose it’s her version of Recovery
by Eminem. But, much like that album, it struggles to stand its ground when Lavigne is constantly switching between having a more mature perspective and still trying to appeal to her old fans. Frankly, her newfound “maturity” is boring. The entire project is marred with dull piano ballads that encompass such sounds as watered-down soul, stiff blues, and listless R&B. Sadly, the title track - which happens to be the opener - is still the best song on offer. Following that, we have “Birdie” which immediately shows the chinks in the armor of Lavigne’s new approach. Sure, it has a nice lowkey vibe and what sounds like a Rhodes keyboard guiding it along, but that doesn’t do much when the song still has a really generic structure and overly glossy production to drag it down. The same can be said for “I Fell in Love with the Devil” which has a really nice piano line that immediately gets derailed by the cliched lyrics and overproduced arena-ready drums. Meanwhile, you have other songs that try - and fail - to recapture old glories. “It Was In Me” is a blatant retread of “I’m With You,” and “Warrior” and “Love Me Insane” both sound like they came out of Goodnight Lullaby
’s slower moments.
Head Above Water
also has its share of more upbeat moments reminiscent of Lavigne’s earlier work, but these songs might actually be even worse. “Dumb Blonde,” to put it bluntly, is fucking repulsive. It has an admirable message of female empowerment, but it’s completely drowned out by the horrible “Hollaback Girl”-esque chanting, pathetic attempts at sounding sassy, and completely pointless Nicki Minaj verse (thanks Nicki, your check’s in the mail!). And with so many female empowerment anthems being made every year, did we really need one that sounded like a low-grade Gwen Stefani leftover? I don’t think so. And of course, this brings me to the real elephant in the room: those damn lyrics. I’m not about to say Let Go
or Under My Skin
were lyrical masterpieces in any way, but the lyrics at least fit the vibes of the music they were accompanying. On Head Above Water
this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, some songs that could have been decent were almost entirely ruined by how embarrassing some of the lyrics are. “Goddess” boasts a great folk-oriented acoustic guitar performance, but the hackneyed lines about finding a new lover are a total buzzkill. Even worse is the way she tries to force some really awkward rhymes in there, like pronouncing “bananas” as “ba-nah-nahs.” It’s really cringy stuff. “Warrior” is just as bad, in the opposite direction. “I’ll pick my battles ‘cause I know I’m gonna win the war” is a perfect example of the problem with many of the ballads on Head Above Water
, being faux-inspirational without providing any new insight whatsoever.
Talking about Head Above Water
is a depressing thing to do, because it comes from an artist who once had so much promise in her younger years. The tragic irony is that many people really wanted to see what Lavigne would become as a more mature songwriter, but once she got to that point, it was something many of us didn’t even end up wanting after all. Head Above Water
is proof that she doesn’t seem to know how to age artistically, shitting out boring ballad after boring ballad with virtually nothing to return to. Maybe we should just wish for Avril Lavigne’s Let Go
days all over again if this
is what her “maturity” will give us in the future.