AVRIL LAVIGNE: THE BEST DAMN THING (2007)
1) Girlfriend; 2) I Can Do Better; 3) Runaway; 4) The Best Damn Thing; 5) When You're Gone; 6) Everything Back But You; 7) Hot; 8) Innocence; 9) I Don't Have To Try; 10) One Of Those Girls; 11) Contagious; 12) Keep Holding On.
Color me crazy, but the more I listen to it, the more it does sound like the best damn thing — by Avril's personal standards, of course. So it looks like the whole wannabe-goth schtick didn't quite work out, despite professional help and supportive sales and reviews. No big deal. Now she is back to glossy pop punk basics.
What is quite seriously refreshing about Avril's third album is that it is unassailable from any theoretical angle. It assumes nothing. It does not present her as anybody that she is really not. One could foam at the mouth for hours in endless debates about whether she really identified with the «skate culture» on Let Go or was just a pathetic poseur (not to mention the even fatter, juicier question of whether «skate culture» is actually «culture», etc.). The Best Damn Thing baits you into nothing. One may like it or be indifferent to it, but hate it? Maybe only for its hit singles occupying way too much TV and radio space, but, next to most of the stuff that competed with it in 2007, these songs are masterful masterpieces.
If you know 'Girlfriend' — and if you were more than two years old in 2007 and were not living in Darfur or Eastern Highlands of Papua, you could hardly not know 'Girlfriend' — you pretty much know the rest of the album. Fast, flashy, pop-punk anthems with catchy choruses, all about boy-girl relations, usually with strong emphasis on «girl». She even swears on a couple of tracks — ooh, controversial! — but don't worry, there are «clean» versions available for underage fans whose parents think that hearing 'I'm the motherfucking princess' as 'I'm the m-m-m-m-m princess' must at least postpone the Doom of the Gods, if not at all cancel it.
The main seductive part of the trick is that, even if Lavigne is quite far removed from symbolizing intelligence in art, these songs, for the most part, make her sound dumber than she really is, and that's excellent because it makes way for irony. 'Girlfriend' is so grossly overdriven, in its music, its frenzied backing vocals, its minimalistic lyrics (and its obvious tributes to the equally minimalistic past, e. g. the Rubinoos' 1979 hit 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' which contains the exact same "hey-hey, you-you" bit), that anyone who'd like to take it seriously — e. g., as an instruction for strong-willed gals to take what they want when they see it — must be at the lower rungs of the human adequacy scale.
All right, so from time to time she is overdoing it. "I'm the one, I'm the one who wears the pants" ('I Don't Have To Try') sounds stupid rather than dumb (there's a big difference) — if she's the one who wears the pants, what the heck is he supposed to be wearing? "I hate it when a guy doesn't understand why a certain time of month I don't want to hold his hand" — ugh. (Okay, I admit this can be a problem, but I don't want to hear about real problems on an album like this, I want to hear nothing but completely braindead stuff). Some of the lyrical and musical moments are cringeworthy, although they will vary from taste to taste. But overall, the lightweight atmosphere and the songwriting craft still win me over.
To this should be added that the record sounds just fine — Avril's backing band has effectively made a transition from third- (fourth-?)generation grungey blandness to upbeat retro-punk, taking their cues from the Ramones themselves rather than from their far-removed descendants. And she herself finally comes across as a self-confident and versatile singer. Anyone who doubts that needs to check out the standards — for instance, compare any of these explosive outbursts (say, 'Everything Back But You', gurgling with breakneck-speed excitement) with the limp, lifeless likes of Miley Cyrus ("There's seven things I hate about you!").
I even admit to liking one of the three power ballads on here (unfortunately, these were most likely obligatory inclusions so as not to displease entirely the new «serious» brand of fans she got herself with Under My Skin) — 'When You're Gone' is maddeningly well written and features a great showcase for the girl's range during the bridge section. Move over, Celine Dion.
In short, I don't know how much of a «real thing» this is, but I do know that this is an expertly crafted pop record, and that there is no good reason to praise the world out of, say, the Pipettes, all the while bashing The Best Damn Thing — the only big difference being that the Pipettes want you to have fun by going against the general flow of things, whereas Lavigne is perfectly okay about going after the flow. Assuming that «to everything there is a season», as Roger McGuinn once told us coming down from Mount Sinai, The Best Damn Thing is truly the best damn way, or, at least, one of the few best damn ways, to integrate the snob and the masses, provided the snob can see the links with the non-commercial stuff and the masses can see that there is a line that separates Lavigne from utterly monstruous glam-punk constructions (Pink!), not to mention the ever lowering standards of teen pop.
A friendly thumbs up: there is little hope that she will continue making music in the exact same manner (too much pressure from the industry that will force her to start «growing up along with her audiences»), but that does not take away from the pure aural-trash pleasure.
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