It happens, you get acquainted with someone and totally hit it off. But something changes and you just drift off. You might wish them well and enjoy brief and irregular encounters, or attempt to rekindle the flame by looking back over better times, but it’s an uphill struggle.
This happened to me and Avril Lavigne (why do I want to call her April Lasagne? Where did I hear that?). In 2002/03 she was a massive new artist, with debut album “Let go” containing several brilliant singles that I’m still fond of, as well as being a solid pop album defining her artistic journey so far. Followup “Under my skin” was similarly fantastic, and it seemed that she wasn’t going to just be a flash in the pan.
But then she took a little time out – or at least from a UK perspective, “Let go” and “Under my skin” were little more than a year apart. Though I loved the singles from “The Best Damn Thing”, it didn’t quite have the same resonance. Maybe I moved on, it didn’t seem like she had particlarly. So another 4 years later, another album drifted by without me really paying attention. I think it’s time to set that straight.
07 Black Star – A mini-song to kick things off, and a lovely tinkly piano track that I heard on her perfume advert first. I guess it’s not about a black star like Rihanna is it? Anyway, her voice sounds exactly the same as it did 10 years ago, but a nice start.
09 What the hell – Now if there’s anything that did register with me about this album campaign, it was the lead single. It took a while to distinguish itself from sounding like an effort to recapture the “Girlfriend” days (after all, that is still one of the most-viewed music videos on YouTube). It’s a typical theme for her, she doesn’t want to be controlled and people just need to back off and let her be. Not exactly reinventing the wheel but if the idea was to summon the old (successful) Avril, this was a pretty solid attempt. I really love this now, even if I feel like she’s done it before.
08 Push – “What the Hell” was a bit of a weird choice of lead single as it’s pretty unrepresentative of the album. This might have some pretty banal lyrics in the choruses, but it’s a cute little singer-songwriter acoustic pop song. It’s got her personality still without sounding too brash. She’s independent (as if anyone questioned that) and she doesn’t have time to be messed around. Needs a bit more oomph but I like it.
07 Wish you were here – This was a single? Passed me by, unfortunately. I can see why, it’s a bit blah, nothing particularly irritating, but just like “Push” it needs more of a push. The chorus here is basic but has a better hook than “Push”. It’s not exactly taxing stuff, but even too MoR for the radio – maybe that was the problem.
08 Smile – The other single, and thankfully it’s a bit more sparky. It does bridge the gap though, it’s not as crazy as “What the hell” but it has the energy missing from the last few singles. OK it’s not looking like she’s maturing that fast but at least this sounds ready for radio. Surprise surprise, the three singles were all written by Avril with Max Martin & Shellback. That explains why this sounds familiar anyway… a decent single.
07 Stop standing there – At least it’s a consistent album, there’s nothing that really jumps out as being off-message. The delivery of the verses on this song are pretty limp, she sounds so bored. I like the little clap-clap clap rhythm and the chorus really has something lovely about it, but it never quite goes all the way. I don’t know … it’s all perfectly nice, but it all needs work.
08 I love you – This is an improvement, the verses are still pretty nursery-rhyme in their delivery but there’s a nice melody in there. The chorus is pretty sweet as well, that Max Martin & Shellback money was well spent, their songs don’t stick out musically but they just feel better quality. A cute song, one of my favourites on the album.
07 Everybody Hurts – She wrote this with Evan Taubenfeld, that bleach-blonde guy from the “Complicated” video, remember? Well they’ve been working together since the start, and it shows in this back-to-basics Avril track that could easily have come off “Under my skin”. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, not a great measure of progress, but it feels more assured and familiar than a lot of others on this album. That chorus is pretty average but musically it’s quite nice.
07 Not enough – Another Evan co-write and it’s starting to feel a little more layered and sophisticated. Not by much, but once the drums kick in it does grow into something rather nice. She doesn’t like stretching her vocals much does she? This – worryingly – is as far as she goes, a few not-that-high notes. What happened to the girl who sang “I’m with you”?
09 4 Real – Did it really need a “4” in the title? Now this is more like it, the chorus hits early but it’s got a great flow to it. It turns out she not only wrote this alone, but produced it too! If that’s not a sign she needs to take control of the process more, I don’t know what is. The harmonies with herself, the unusual rhythm to the chorus, it all comes together really nicely and hits that midtempo spot better than most of the songs on the album.
06 Darlin – It couldn’t last… we’re back to the fairly tedious grind of bland acoustic pop. The chorus is quite nice but this just doesn’t really go anywhere musically or lyrically.
06 Remember when – Avril’s ex-husband Deryck Whibley produced a sizeable chunk of the album, it’s an unusual dynamic, I wonder how that came about. Unfortunately he seems to be helming the more boring tracks. There’s a bit in the middle with the same melody as “I love you”, isn’t there? It does pep up a bit towards the end but this really isn’t doing much for me.
06 Goodbye – A nice old piano-led sendoff, is that a cello too? While I appreciate the change in sound, it’s still a bit of a non-starter, the melody is run-of-the-mill and the lyrics are a non-event too. Phew …
Well I ended up with a bit more of a negative feel than I expected. I had been listening to it for a little while and it’s nice to have on in the background, but sitting here listening to it specifically to review it felt like a bit of a drag in places.
She seems comfortable with the sound, perhaps too comfortable – aside from the Max Martin & Shellback songs, there is nothing particularly engaging or different. It’s pleasant until boredom creeps in, and mediocre Avril is still better than a lot of things, I guess I just expect a bit more.
Still, this a timely review as she’s just gearing up for a fifth album release. I’m not sure what direction that will take, apparently it was to be the opposite of “Goodbye Lullaby”, but it was apparently completed nearly a year ago. Now it seems it’s being re-worked so let’s hope her new label Epic knows how to turn it all around. I hope she can, she always had potential.
Keepers for the iPod: What the hell, Push, Smile, I love you, 4 Real