Avril Lavigne goes full Christian rock on ‘Head Above Water’

Henry Netherland

Courtesy of iTunes.

From being signed at the age of 16 to contracting Lyme disease at the age of 30, pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne has been through a lot.

Surprisingly, I have had a long history with Lavigne’s music. One of the first CDs I remember owning was her debut, “Let Go,” when I was four. In high school, my love for her music reignited after hearing Shane Dawson reference her multiple times in his earlier YouTube videos.

Ad

Throughout her career, Lavigne has been seen as a joke by the punk community for her clean production, surface-level lyrics and ignorance towards punk history. Despite these flaws, I’ve come to admire her ear for catchy hooks, her bright punchy voice and her tomboyish down to earth attitude. Now  the question is how many of those qualities show up on her newest record, “Head Above Water.”

Sober listening

The opening track, “Head Above Water” is the epitome of a cliché. From the get-go, it’s clear to see what direction she’s headed in. While I have nothing against Christianity or religion being addressed in music, when artists begin crossing over into squeaky clean produced pop-rock, it becomes unbearable. This track and many others on the record sound like something I would have picked up at a church souvenir shop.

The fourth track, “Tell Me It’s Over,” is the first brief ray of sunshine on the record. Like many other cuts on the album it is a ballad, but there’s almost a ‘50s vocal pop progression. The stiff beat drags it down a bit, but Lavigne’s killer vocal performance is like a light shooting through a storm.

“Dumb Blonde” has Lavigne attempting to return to a “The Best Damn Thing” pop sound with cheerleading chants. Unfortunately, the delivery feels more unnatural than it has in the past. It feels like a forced attempt at making a pop banger among drab acoustic ballads. This is also a rare moment where the verse is actually more melodically fruitful than the chorus.

One smoke session later…

Among all the tracks here, “I Fell in Love with the Devil” has to be the most overdramatic and cliché. Granted she is most likely talking about ex-husband and Nickelback frontman, Chad Kroeger, so there may be some accuracy to that. But the copy-and-paste beats and orchestral strings do little to bring home the sentiment.

“Souvenir” is one of the better cuts, feeling more folk and indie-rock inspired. The chorus is bouncy and youthful, despite the desperation in the lyrics.

“Bigger Wow” is one of the more upbeat cuts which is a plus; however, that doesn’t mean it’s any less generic. Also, I have no idea what the hell a “bigger wow” is.

Ad

The closing track, “Warrior,” isn’t as bad as the generic title would suggest. Lavigne’s performance is actually decent. Unfortunately, the instrumental provides no support to her voice, making any potential the song had fall flat.

Overall: 4/10

Best songs: “Tell Me It’s Over,” “Souvenir” and “Crush”

Worst song: “I Fell in Love with the Devil”

Truth be told, I’ve always had a feeling a record like this would come down the pipeline. Given that Lavigne has shown in the past to be comfortable with making mediocre ballads, it was only a matter of time until she decided to dedicate the majority of an album to this style. The reality is, Lavigne is at her best when she’s producing catchy pop-punk bangers with a pinch of grit.

Since the release of her last album, Lavigne went through a divorce as well as Lyme disease, both traumatic events that could shake anyone. However, these events have forced her to grow up and further dull down her already clean sound.

Although listenable, “Head Above Water” feels like a complete betrayal of Lavigne’s rock-oriented fans. The worst part is wondering where the artist will go from here. Either she begins to wear out her youth with teenybopper pop-punk tracks, or she continues to compose bland and forgettable ballads.

Henry Netherland can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @NetherlandHenry.