AVRIL LAVIGNE: UNDER MY SKIN (2004)
1) Take Me Away; 2) Together; 3) Don't Tell Me; 4) He Wasn't; 5) How Does It Feel; 6) My Happy Ending; 7) Nobody's Home; 8) Forgotten; 9) Who Knows; 10) Fall To Pieces; 11) Freak Out; 12) Slipped Away; 13*) I Always Get What I Want.
It actually takes a few listens to this album — a feat that most sensible, reasonable people will feel no need to perform — to understand that the noun phrases «Avril Lavigne» and «creative growth» are not fully incompatible within a sentence. Yes, the girl's career does follow a curve, and there is a certain pinch of interest in following it.
Obviously, I am not talking about the much discussed change of image: instead of the overdriven skater brat of Let Go, Under My Skin gives us a black-and-white, Deeply Tragic, goth-overtoned Lavigne, all set on «maturation», a.k.a. inflating teenage tribulations to cosmic proportions. It is quite telling that one of the hit songs, 'Nobody's Home', was co-written with ex-Evanescence guitar player Ben Moody: the influence of his band's skill at merchandising doom and gloom is all over this record. (I will, however, refrain from deep discussions on whose metaphysical conception of art — Lavigne's or Amy Lee's — has contributed more to our spiritual development). The overall best thing I can say about this shift of image, though, is that it doesn't make things any worse. If you are a poseur by nature, it doesn't really matter if you are also a chameleon.
The real reason why Under My Skin is a tad more interesting is that Lavigne apparently takes this songwriting business seriously, and that there is a significant jump in song quality from the previous record. Maybe it is her new songwriting partner, fellow Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk, pushing her on to new levels, or perhaps professional obligations spurred her on to digest musical influences other than Blink-182 and Matchbox 20, but, whatever be the case, most of the songs on Under My Skin at least qualify as semi-decent mainstream grunge / pop punk in which music, vocal melodies, and lyrics generally serve one and the same purpose, and that purpose is a tiny bit smarter than just «rock out, dude».
See, normally, an album like that should only provoke teeth-grinding reactions. All of these songs with their exaggerated darkness, tales of breakups, self-exile, PAIN PAIN PAIN — the fuckin' brat is twenty years old, what does she know about pain (and let us not start about the age of Juliet, whom we only know as a Shakesperian projection anyway)? Yet the obligatory three listens went down smoothly, in fact, each next one was smoother than the one before. How come the barf bag is still empty?
Hooks and craft, baby. Kreviazuk (who, by the way, is 10 years older than Lavigne and certainly qualifies better for writing such an album) and whoever else she is working with really did a solid job of providing her with well-written choruses — and Lavigne does an equally good job at singing them. This is where her vocal skills really come in handy: nowhere near diva-level, so the songs don't come across as blown tremendously out of proportion, but still loud, strong, and expressive enough to minimize all the damage from «posing».
Hilariously, the most memorable song on the album is also its least typical — the vapid, girlish pop-punk anthem 'He Wasn't', played at breakneck speed and winning us over with its ABBA-like "uh huh"s. (Lavigne must have sensed it herself, or else it wouldn't have served as the blueprint for just about all of The Best Damn Thing). The only other song that is sort of a «stand out» is the already mentioned 'Nobody's Home', because it does, indeed, sound somewhat like Evanescence-lite, with more complex vocal overdubs than usual, falsettos rising into screaming and background guitars that actually seem to at least be wanting to shape their sound into some sort of complex melodic figure (not that they could ever hope to — complex melodic figures are harmful ballast for Avril's legions of fans).
The rest... well, actually, I would be interested in seeing if someone could do something with this kind of material if it were freed from the monotonous grasp of post-grunge guitars. Phasing? Wah-wahs? A string quartet? A Mellotron? How about «Avril Lavigne and The London Symphony Orchestra»? Or at least spicing it up with bits and pieces of Eastern motives, à la Big Guru Alanis? Until then, Under My Skin is a curious anomaly — a predictable failure at an attempt to add «deep» and «cool» to the list of keywords, yet, in spite of all odds, a thoroughly listenable one. Plus, 'He Wasn't' is, indeed, one of the giggliest pop tunes of the decade.
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