Album review: Avril Lavigne, The Best Damn Thing
Avril Lavigne insists she won’t be pidgeon-holed and has professed to be unconcerned with image. Yet her appearance has always been carefully crafted.
When she first broke on to the scene as a teenager, she was a cute, but tomboyish rock chick – the anti-Britney and poster girl for the angst-ridden, cool teenagers who liked their guitars loud, but their ballads tender if unhappy.
Image is still just as important, but Avril has changed into a confident, sexy, exclusively blonde young woman who has ditched dark clothes for polka dots, short shorts, fishnet tights and killer heels. She’s still punk enough to wear dark eyeshadow and a skull necklace, though.
Now 22 and married to Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley, she puts the image change down to “just growing up” and recently added: “I’m showing off my body a bit more. I guess I just feel a bit more comfortable now. I think I look pretty good.”
The confidence stretches to the control she claims to have over her career, after selling 26 million copies of her first two records, Let Go and Under My Skin.
“Before I even started work on this album I sat down with my manager and record company and spelled out exactly what was going to happen,” she told the Mail On Sunday earlier this month.
“I didn’t want interference. I presented it as a whole from the songs to the song list, to the pictures to the colours on the album, right down to the typeface.”
The package she delivered is more of the good stuff – if you like Avril as a pop artist. This is not rock, punk or alternative in any credible way. But it is good, old-fashioned pop music with a nod towards guitar and pop-punk that gives it an ounce of credibility with the kids.
There’s plenty of crap on the album and it won’t make you think – but it is beautifully put together (with the occasional exception) and it will make you dance.
The Best Damn Thing – First listen, track by track
You should have heard this on the radio or seen on TV. The first single from the album benefits from a great video (see below). This could well become Avril’s most iconic song. Funny and beautifully put together. It has received criticism for being shallow and encouraging bullying – but these lyrics are surely more ironic than presenting a manifesto.
After hearing this plenty already, the only surprise is that the expletives are deleted on the record – not just in the radio version. Maybe that “parental advisory” sticker would have been too much for the teenyboppers who are Avril’s real fanbase.
2. I Can Do Better
More expletives deleted – it’s starting to get annoying. In the last song she sang “you could do so much better”, now Avril “can do better” – I hope there are going to be a few more ideas in the next few tracks. Overpowering screechy backing vocals sound digitally enhanced, if enhanced is the right word. They seem deliberately layered in a punky, out-of-tune way. Sounds forgettable at first, but it’s so full of energy that I’ve got a feeling this is going to grow.
Avril still does angst: “I just wanna scream and lose control . . . Forget about everything and run away.” – but with acoustic guitars that sound reminiscent of a laid-back Sugar Ray. Expletive watch: bitch manages to beat the censor.
4. The Best Damn Thing
More overdone out-of-tune multi-tracking on Avril’s voice on the album’s title track. But this sounds a lot like with Girlfriend, with a cheerleader-style break-out in the middle. These tracks sound like they’re part of some kind of modern-day Grease musical. This is designed for the stadium gigs: “Let me hear you say ‘hey, hey, hey . . . hey, hey, ho’.”
5. When You’re Gone
Time for the slow, tearjerker, with strings and atmospheric piano. Well executed, but too soppily generic to be taken seriously: “When you’re gone, the pieces of my heart are missing you.” I’m guessing this is a future single from the way it is flagged up on the album cover. I expect this is a grower.
6. Everything Back But You
She’s trying really hard to nail that shouty, whiny punk style in a kind of girlie Bille-Jo Green Day way. Feels like I’ve heard this before. Not particularly great, but the lyrics are funny: “I wish you were her. You left out the ‘e’. You left without me.”
I’m guessing on tour this song will be the cue for the fans to take a toilet break. Skip this; mid-tempo and middle of the road, with a totally disjointed structure and not an ounce of originality.
Beautiful piano opening. This is one of Avril’s “with feeling” songs. Once again, the lyrics are unoriginal, but, paradoxically, that’s the way they should be in this song. Wave your lighter in the air. “This innocence is brilliant. It makes you wanna cry.”
9. I Don’t Have To Try
Oh dear. I thought Avril learned on record one: DON’T EVER TRY ANYTHING RESEMBLING A RAP. But after the ridiculous start this a proper pogoing pop tune that will get the audience on their feet after a slowy like Innocence. Husband watch: the guitars on this track are more than a little reminiscent of Sum 41.
10. One Of Those Girls
I hope this isn’t autobiographical, this song about girls taking boys for a ride, this song about a girl with “blond hair and blue eyes” who is “one of those girls, nothing but trouble.” Album fodder.
This a loved-up Avril at her least interesting, but the track is lightened up by a rather contagious guitar riff.
12. Keep Holding On
The album ender and, inevitably, a future concert ender. It’s as if this album has been written for stadium-rocking performances. You can almost hear 60,000 singing this back to Avril with their glow sticks waving and their heads rocking to the power chords and driving bass line before the lights bath the audience over a middle eight and gospel-style outro with accompanying “oohs” and “ahhs”. The ending is scarily abrupt as it sounds as if the wall of noise has been swallowed up and prematurely ended. I half expect the CD player to spit out the disc – but it’s worth one more play at least.
Girlfriend – in many different languages!