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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Avril Lavigne: The Best Damn Thing


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.

Check "The Best Damn Thing" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Best Damn Thing" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Well apparently there's not much difference between Darfur and the suburbs of Stockholm, because I honestly had never heard 'Girlfriend' before, but now that I have, what the heck, it's a pretty fun song. I'm sure some people will be worried that sitting through all this "modern trash" has ruined your tastes, but me, well I can't but agree, it's a decent album.

  2. I am dumbfounded.

    TBDT, in my opinion, is Avril's weakest. No, not because she "sold out" or "watered down" her music. She never had that much credence to begin with; and I could not even be bothered about the deliberate dumbing down of her message because, in 2007, my ideal musical philosopher clearly isn't her.

    My sole reason for following her career are the masterful teen-pop crafts that are catchy to the max; which she has always shown from the beginning of her career and is equally preserved on TBDT.

    Why is it a weaker outing than the previous two then?

    It's just a very exhausting record to listen to. The production is irritatingly loud, and coupled with that, there is no diversity on TBDT. I tolerate pop music and happily have a daily intake of it, but being pumped with 40 minutes of monotony is just an assault.

    And though I agree that Avril's voice has never been as good as showcased on TBDT, I actually find it a bit irritating that she finds it a MUST to pitch her voice that high even when a good number of these songs do not require her to. E.g. That screechy pre-chorus on 'I Don't Have to Try' did as much pain to my ear as Neubauten's 'Kollaps'.

    For a similar case, check out her soundtrack song 'Alice'. It has a cool Britpop-laced intro (and beautiful falsettos on the middle-8) that sounds as if we'll finally see her graduate to her 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie' stage... until those screechy choruses came in and ruined everything. She has a good voice, fair point, but I don't like it when she attacks notes instead of singing them.

    Also, for your (non?) interest, she also has an unofficial collection of leaked pre-Let Go materials that I can happily provide you a download link to. It's her attempt to be the next country-pop crossover queen a la Shania Twain and is hardly essential even by MTV pop's standard, but it has some minor gems.

    Okay. I shall lock my lips now.

  3. I'm still skeptical, but I may give this album a chance. In the grand scheme of things, I already have "Fearless" by Taylor Swift on my iPod, so what's a little Avril going to hurt at this point?

  4. The Rubinoos bit isn't a tribute. The band sued Avril for copying them and her defense wasn't "oh it's just a tribute" (which probably would have gotten her off the hook). It was "it's not a copy at all, and the Rubinoos song copies 'Get Off Of My Cloud' anyway, so there". They settled out of court.

  5. George, as a longtime reader of Only Solitaire (since the very start of the old version, I believe), you've got me puzzled. Why are you reviewing Avril Lavigne's albums? Surely there are -- without exaggeration -- many hundreds of artists worthier of your consideration. Her music -- judging by the few hits I'm familiar with, which I have no reason to suspect as unrepresentative -- is not even interesting in the "so-bad-it's-good-again" way, or in any other way I can decipher. Genuine question then: why are you reviewing her?

    p.s. You have of course every right in the world to do what you wish on your blog. I'm just wondering whether you have any good reason to review her -- and as you know, "having a good reason to X" is different from "having the right to X"...

  6. Okay, George, we've put up with your Monkees reviews, your odd affinity for ELO and your Abba page, but I think you've broken the camel's back on this one.

    Get your head in the game.

    Now I'm not someone who hates Avril Lavigne for merely being Avril Lavigne. No sir. I appreciate that a hardworking girl from my native province made good.

    That's no reason to treat this album as an important artifact of the late 00s, though. It isn't. It's fast food for the ears and at the end of that nutritionally empty meal, all you're left with is refuse.

  7. The Rubinoos bit isn't a tribute. The jewelry sued Avril for copying them and her team wasn't "oh it's retributive a approval" (which likely would bang gotten her off the offer). It was "it's not a simulate at all, and the Rubinoos song copies 'Get Off Of My Cloud' anyway, so there". They set out of room.
    Sean Cruz
    BPO Work

  8. Wtf?? "sean4u's" comment was exactly the came as mine but with randomly swapped words. I think we've got a spammer in the house.

  9. Hey Ken, here is some food for thought: couldn't it (also) be that sean4u is just snarkily commenting on the nature of derivation in pop music? Just saying…

    Another example to further meditation on the same topic: how "Jagger/Richards" (actually Allen Klein) came to gain writing credits for a song using (large parts of) an orchestral tune inspired by one of their 60s songs that they heavily lifted from predecessors. Because the tribunal said so.


  10. Ha ha, it looks like my Lavigne reviews are the hit of the season: largest bunch of comments in a row for the second time since "Under My Skin", and even a bot post (first time ever). I think I'll keep this bot around as a souvenir.

    Andrew: The monotonousness doesn't annoy me one bit - not any more so than on any classic punk, hardcore punk, or pop punk record I've heard. If it were all power ballads or mid-tempo "life-sucks" grungey things, that's a different matter, but this stuff is okay. I don't expect diversity of someone like Avril, and, in fact, the less she experiments, probably the better. (Which is why I am not highly interested in her country-style demos).

    Anonymous A and B (it would actually make sense to post nicks at least): I have never claimed that this, or any other A. L., album, is an "important artefact". As a matter of fact, it is pretty hard to say, for now, what is really an "important artefact" of the '00s and what is "fast food for the ears". And it is well possible that it won't be easy to tell in twenty years' time, either. It is fairly reasonable to suggest that there will be small niche groups taking an intellectual-historical interest in Avril just as there will be small groups of Arcade Fire fans, in complementary distribution but not sizeable enough for the rest of the population, too busy listening to the next Justin Bieber, to tell one from the other.

    Plus, a few of these songs are hardly any worse from a basic melody standpoint than, uh, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', for instance.

  11. I am not a fan of Ramones/Clash/Black Flag/Dead Kennedys/Sum 41/Fall Out Boy either, so maybe that's why I can't appreciate TBDT as much as you do.

    Thanks for reviewing Avril. Now I can sleep in peace knowing what GS has to think about THAT #1 favorite artist of mine.

    I wonder if Britney will fare as well with you. Not that you should review her: I have her whole catalog and it's all crap that doesn't even pass for guilty pleasure, bar the catchy third album and a good number of killer singles.

    If any, dedicate your time for more Beck, Bjork, and Blur.

    Or if you want something more MTV-ish, Beyonce is a healthier alternative. Not by much, but those bass licks in 'Deja Vu' and blaring horns on 'Crazy in Love' are really something.