Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Overnight Crush On Avril Lavigne Might Be The Best Damn Thing

The Good: Some very catchy tunes, Moments of voice
The Bad: Some exceptionally erratic songs, Album fails to come together well
The Basics: Avril Lavigne's latest musical endeavor is a serious disappointment, especially for those of us who have come to realize she DOES have a great voice!

So, it's worth noting that for years Avril Lavigne has been my punching bag in reviews and short stories as one of the least creative rhyming talents in the world. Indeed, I cannot do rhyming poetry or anything with a meter, but I openly admit this and the result of my endeavors is not a collection of songs with the most predictable rhyme schemes in the history of pop-rock music. Here I am with my fourth Avril Lavigne disc review and one might wonder how that happened, especially considering I recommend some of her albums, though not Goodbye Lullaby (reviewed here!).

The year The Best Damn Thing was released, I was up late and I caught part of Jimmy Kimmel Live and Avril Lavigne was performing live atop the Pontiac or Chrysler Building (don't care, it's not important for this review) and two things happened that impressed me. The first was, it was raining as she began to sing and she pulled her hood up on her sweatshirt. As stupid as it might seem, this impressed me as my general negative impression of most young people these days extends to the idea that most of them wouldn't be bright enough (or willing to mess up their hair) to cover their head when they're out in the rain. The other thing was that as she began to sing "Girlfriend," an insipid single I had only heard three times on the radio before that, something became painfully clear; Avril Lavigne has a pretty amazing voice when she's not being overproduced. For an evening, I was painfully taken with Avril Lavigne.

On her latest complete and original endeavor, The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne presents twelve tracks, clocking in at barely over forty minutes of music which almost completely obscure that beautiful voice I heard one Spring night. No, this collection is perhaps her most solid pop endeavor and it's . . . well, it's remarkably average and it seems to mortgage her public image pretty effectively. Sure, on the inside of the c.d. liner, there's Avril looking disaffected, bored, seductive or darkly playful in her short skirt, fishnets and omnipresent black eyeliner, but her songs are neither written nor sound like that image.

Take "Girlfriend," a pure pop melody with one of the ultimate pop hooks of "Hey! Hey! You! You!" (everyone in the room looks). It's a song certainly dissing (is that common enough vernacular now for reviewers to use without sounding like poseurs?) the subject's current girlfriend, but it's a cry to let the singer be the subject's partner. This, of course, is wonderful irony to the teenage boys who would love for Avril to be singing to them as she is now happily married. Yes, it took marriage and settling down for Lavigne to produce and album that seems to be primarily concerned with having fun.

That is, when the album is trying to be about anything coherent. In many ways, The Best Damn Thing is the archetypal pop-rock album with a majority of pop tracks ("Girlfriend," "Runaway," "Hot"), with a few rock tracks ("Everything Back But You") and the requisite pop ballads ("When You're Gone," "Keep Holding On"). The problem is, despite the somewhat typical nature of the album on one level, some of the individual tracks are so fractured as to make it near impossible to define along any sort of reasonable spectrum.

Take the title track, "The Best Damn Thing", which starts as a ridiculous cheerleader song with Lavigne crying out "Let me hear you say hey hey hey / Alright (sic), now let me hear you say hey hey ho." The song sounds strangely like the classic "Mickey" from Toni Basil. The song then turns into a list of complaints against guys, in a typical pop way, before entering a loud rock refrain that is basically Lavigne screaming at those who have rejected her. This effect is much more pronounced on "Everything Back But You," which sounds like it would be more appropriate coming from a band like Blink 182 or Green Day.

Sadly, after her beautiful ballad "Innocence," Lavigne presents "I Don't Have To Try," wherein Lavigne shrieks a refrain of "I don't care what you're saying / I don't care what you're thinking" after a trademark intro featuring the lamest rhymes ever (in this case "I'm the one I'm the one who knows the dance . . . who's got the prance . . . who wears the pants"). So even when there is the hint that Avril Lavigne can sing, she quickly mortgages it with examples of how she refuses to.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about The Best Damn Thing (the album) is that it seems like since Under My Skin, the only word Avril Lavigne has learned is "Hey!" "Hey" appears on the album (according to the liner, so this is not including responses of "hey" or the repetition of it in cannons while she is singing other things) sixty-nine times, forty of which are in the first track, "Girlfriend." I understand some of those "heys" are used on this version to cover profanities that are used in the deluxe versions, but still, that's a lot of "hey!"

The other disappointing thing is the way the album seems to be utilizing "cheerleader pop," which is a marked departure from Lavigne's darker material on Under My Skin and Let Go. "Girlfriend" and The Best Damn Thing include cheerleader interludes where Lavigne leads a cheer, including a self-promotional on the latter track where she spells out her name. This is the type of amateur mistake or self-buoying technique I would expect from a much younger artist. Or Eminem.

At the end of the day, it's not good music and it buries more poignant messages like those in "I Can Do Better," the latest Avril-teen anthem about holding out for someone better than whoever one is with at the time. Indeed, Lavigne seems unwilling to commit to the same depth with a darker song like that as she degenerated near the end into another beat-heavy "cheerleader pop" bit that breaks the song out of its harder rock mold.

And it's hard to take the rich sound of "Innocence" seriously when it's sandwiched between the pure pop of "Hot" (which isn't bad) and the insipid "I Don't Have To Try." The result is an album that is, at best, average, and at worst a trainwreck of conflicting sounds. Lavigne seems to not know what direction she wants to go on this album, whether she wants to be a pop princess, a rocker, a cheerleader or even a decent singer/performer.

And the responsibility (okay, blame) falls squarely on Lavigne, who co-wrote every song on the album. As well, she is the executive producer of the album, though she does not play any instruments on the disc. Usually, I recommend in a situation like this that one hunt down the deluxe version of the album because more is usually better, but if the rest of the material is comparable to what's on the single disc version, it's not worth your time, money or attention.

The best track is probably "When You're Gone," but so many of the other tracks - especially "I Don't Have To Try" - are just plain bad.

For works by other women who rock, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Wilderness - Sophie B. Hawkins
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan - Sarah McLachlan


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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