Avril Lavigne has changed an awful amount since she released her first single, Sk8er Boi, and subsequent album 11 years ago. There were no EPs preceding it, she went straight in the deep end and started her career with what went on to be a worldwide best-seller – Let Go. Over the years she’s kept this drastic theme up, from her defiant, prima donna and almost punk attitude of her first two albums, to much further extremes of contrasting pop and acoustic on her more recent ones. Her latest record is no exception in the line of radical choices, making it her most daring release to date.
The most interesting aspect of the first track on her self titled album, Rock N Roll, is the – quite frankly – terrible and recycled lyrics. Lines such as “what if you and I just put up a middle finger to the sky” feel forced and poorly constructed, lacking the powerful “I don’t care” attitude she used to possess. To be honest, the track feels like a rather weak album opener, reusing many phrases from her previous years. It fits somewhere as a cross between Girlfriend, Headset, Smile and Bad Reputation, yet manages to lack what all three of these thrive on; feeling. (I may also add that the last of those songs listed isn’t even her own, but one she did a cover of.) The singer is anything but “Rock N Roll” nowadays, possibly better described as “soft pop and weak”. There’s a lot in common with this and the second track of the album, Here’s To Never Growing Up – mainly the poor lyrics and the music videos filled with product placement.
Before the album was released, I listened to a recording of the third track, 17, performed live on Avril’s tour. Performed acoustically, the song is actually incredibly beautiful, and I can imagine the crowd would have been in absolute awe of the performance. Of course, it would seem that nowadays it’s not acceptable to simply record something and sell it; there has to come the stage of editing and adjusting. The amount of auto-tune on this track is ludicrous, and the layered vocals are rather abysmal. Furthermore, the contrast of the lyrics and the melody is bizarre. Lines such as “tasted like cigarettes and soda-pop”, “flicking lighters just to fight the dark” and “we were running red lights” clearly reflect the attitude she had when she was 17 and writing her first album, but the light “poppy” sound feel somewhat too soft to do justice to the lyrics.
The fifth track features Avril’s new husband, Chad Kroeger, so I guess she can’t be entirely to blame for the song. It is clear he’s had more of an influence in this – Let Me Go – as it sounds noticeably like Nickleback, and it’s also clear that their voices don’t mesh all that well. The love ballad does make a refreshing change to the rest of the album though – whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not sure. As far as I can see, there’s only one really good track off the record, and that’s Bad Girl (featuring Marilyn Manson). It returns to her attitude and sound of her first albums with powerful vocals and heavier drumming. Her vocals sound less strained and although Manson’s influence is clear on the song, it enhances the only good thing she has left going for her – the fragmented remains of her punk orientation.
In my opinion certain songs off the record (Bitchin’ Summer, Hello Kitty, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet and Sippin’ On Sunshine) are simply not worth commenting on – I can’t think of any phrasing that could collectively sum up the sheer horror of these tracks. Slower songs, such as Give You What You Like, Hello Heartache, Falling Fast and Hush Hush feel much more natural in Avril’s style. Although the lyrics are over-simplified and clichéd, often forcing rhymes, the general sound of the tracks is not half as vulgar as some of the other works on this album. In particular, the closing song feels slightly special – one thing that’s been consistent over her years of making music is that she definitely knows how to end an album. In fact, Hush Hush is possibly good enough to make up for the terrors of the previous songs.
I’ve followed Miss Lavigne’s music very closely since she released her first single, and over the years I think I grew to accept that her music was changing. It may seem from this that I have never been a fan, making this review somewhat skewed, but if anything I should have overly positive views on her work. However, in light of this new album I am tempted to reconsider whether I still like the artist she has grown into. Her music has begun to feel more rushed and poorly assembled in recent times, and the rebellious attitude of her youth seems to have worn off, leaving her as a child, desperate for attention, in an adult’s body. This album is definitely… something.