Avril Lavigne, Avril Lavigne (Epic)
Avril Lavigne’s twice-married, pushing 30—and speaking for sloppy teens like the Lorax who grabbed the axe. We’re supposed to hope for more from a star releasing her fifth album (which is streaming now on iTunes, a week ahead of its release), never mind one doing it at a time when even music’s biggest brats get folks clucking about high-toned topics like appropriation and blasphemy.
Avril, who turned 29 last month, can’t compete with Miley and Kanye when it comes to making a spectacle of pop spectacle. But the irresistibly zippy, perceptive and, on two (possibly three) occasions, deeply weird Avril Lavigne reminds us that maturity sometimes means doubling down on what’s expected of you—even when that involves rapping about the “motherf—ing cops” on a fleet little song called “Bitchin’ Summer.”
It takes a village to write a proper teen album, and here, Avril mainly relies on her new hubby, Nickleback frontman Chad Kroeger, and two other non-Swedes who’ve done time in bands, Martin Johnson and David Hodges. But when she shouts about living “like rock stars” in “Here’s to Never Growing Up,” the biggest and best of her first three singles from the album, it’s from the sloshed perspective of hellion high schoolers, not crusty groupie seekers.
In fact, hardly any of Kroeger’s oiliness seems to have seeped into Avril’s sound. Beyond, that is, their monster duet “Let Me Go,” which might be deeply weird because it is newlyweds singing what seems to be a breakup ballad, or might be completely unremarkable because it sounds like a Nickleback song. And although Hodges cofounded Evanescence, Avril’s actually done away with the doomy elements she borrowed from that band on her last disc, Goodbye Lullaby.
What we do hear sounds like tomboy Taylor Swift, or Paramore for the everygirl. (And on a distant shore, Sheryl Crow watches someone peel the labels off his bottle of Bud.) The songs come in three main categories. There’s straight-up trouble-teen pop rock, like the near-perfect “17,” in which “stealing beers out of the trailer park” leads to “flicking lighters just to fight the dark,” and the hyper acoustic thrum benefits from a spritz of the wistful. Out in left field you’ll find category Come Again?, containing two deeply weird songs: “Hello Kitty,” a dubstep track that seems to acknowledge its own tokenism by adopting a “J-Pop American Funtime Now!” sheen (and whose title may or may not enclose a double entendre that in any case I’d rather not entertain); and the kohl-black but super-bouncy “Bad Girl,” which features Marilyn Manson croaking and Cookie Monstering about his pervy “daddy” fantasies while Avril invites him to “do whatever” and more. The weirdest thing? The pair kick so hard that they jar the misgivings right out of your head. And then, of course, the hooks rush in.
Probably no one enjoys the thought of Avril Lavigne and Marilyn Manson having to come up with a safe word. (Sk8tr Uncle?) But the whole thing’s so over the top you can’t hate it. Or at least, if you do hate it, double check to make sure you’re not also railing against “slutty” Halloween costumes, because you might just be misdirecting some internalized rage.
Which brings us to the last category of tracks on the album—the sexual confusion songs. Avril’s commitment to the teen point of view finally yields this: “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” a pleasure anthem as earnest as anything by T. Swift that nevertheless finds its protagonist rounding “third base and headed for a home run”; and “Give You What You Like,” a sensual-sounding ballad that hints at all the ways people trade sex and affection for attention (and cigarettes). Avril’s no longer bemoaning complications, she’s sticking her nose right in them—and very much revealing her grown-woman wisdom. B+