AVRIL LAVIGNE: GOODBYE LULLABY (2011)
1) Black Star; 2) What The Hell; 3) Push; 4) Wish You Were Here; 5) Smile; 6) Stop Standing There; 7) I Love You; 8) Everybody Hurts; 9) Not Enough; 10) 4 Real; 11) Darlin'; 12) Remember When; 13) Goodbye; 14*) Alice.
Does the title suggest, in any way, that Canada's latest piece of candy from Pandora's box may be considering early retirement, especially if the album does not sell well enough? (As of late March, it still hasn't reached the top of the charts and it looks like the bus has already been missed). Because Goodbye Lullaby clearly proves one thing: in ten years' time, the lady Lavigne has not been able to grow up, and since in another three years, when she hits thirty, any attempt to recreate the burly success of The Best Damn Thing will seem gruesomely inadequate, it is, perhaps, high time to seek another line of work.
At least her attempts to sound «serious» on her second album were painted in black overtones. It might not have been «her», really, but it was a misguided attempt to try to move in the generally right direction. Now the lightness and humor take a step back once again, but the overtones are dazzlingly — and sickeningly — white (not surprisingly, check out the album cover and contrast it with the photo on Under My Skin). Goodbye Lullaby is, simply put, an album of simplistic, tender, but «seriously conceited» love songs. A little joy, a little pain, a little happiness, a little suffering, the usual thing, nothing particularly respectable or cutting edge, even from a sternly mainstream point of view.
The album starts off deceptively — doubly deceptively, in fact, first with a little bit of a piano ballad ('Black Star') setting one up for romance, then suddenly launching into 'What The Hell', an obvious attempt to recreate the smash success of 'Girlfriend'. But if 'Girlfriend' truly had its guilty pleasure side, a head-spinning hyper-dumb rock song that even the Ramones could have endorsed, 'What The Hell' is a lame shadow, an overcompressed bore with no discernible guitar melody, a phenomenal lack of concern for the lyrics (lines like "You say that I'm messing with your head / Boy, I like messing in your bed" cannot be even unintentionally funny) coupled with a strange message that does not fit at all with the rest of the album ("All my life I've been good, but now, what the hell", she states and then switches over to soppy, inoffensive ballads for the rest of the record), and was that a whiff of auto-tuned vocals I sensed on the chorus? This is the kind of stuff that is usually reserved for the likes of Miley Cyrus these days, and I did think better of Avril.
After such a crappy start, one might even get a stronger craving for soppy ballads, and I cannot say that everything here is rotten. These are not power ballads; they're teen-pop ballads, with upbeat rhythms and light choruses and acoustic guitars coming through, with maybe a couple exceptions ('Remember When' rips it up Diane Warren-style, even though the song is credited purely to Avril — who knows, maybe when she's retired from the stage, she might try on Satan's crown for a while). 'Everybody Hurts' should be docked a point for getting people to mention R.E.M. and Avril Lavigne in the same sentence (see, she's done it again), but its chorus is believable, as is the funky anguish in '4 Real' and even the desperation in 'Wish You Were Here' (what's up with all these titles, anyway, has the English-speaking world finally run out of new verb phrases? Or is this some sort of primitivist defiance — in 2011, to call one of your songs 'I Love You'?).
In the end, there are two good sides to this. One: Avril Lavigne is very far from being the worst singer-songwriter you ever heard in your life. She knows what a pop hook is, and she can even craft some that do not carry nauseous side effects. Two: Avril Lavigne is a fan of the good old guitar-and-piano approach, understanding that a pop hook goes best with a traditionally grounded pop arrangement. That's about it (okay, third side: no matter how hard it is to look sexy in a white wedding dress, she does manage it on the front cover). Bad sides: no single idea is explored here to its logical end. Hooks aren't sung with the proper conviction, arrangements aren't given much thought beyond the basic choice of instrument, and, worst of all, the whole thing is simply way beyond her abilities. She wanted to turn this into some Solemn Celebration of the Pure Force of Love, but can a one-armed swimmer win the Olympic 50-metre freestyle?
Thumbs down — but, in all honesty, it is nothing short of a miracle that Goodbye Lullaby comes across as «disappointing» rather than simply Godawful (well, 'What The Hell' is Godawful). Actually, it is possible that Lavigne's worst mistake was her production team (including people like Max Martin, who has produced albums by just about every horrible teen pop artist on the planet). Apparently, Nigel Godrich couldn't be bought — or, more likely, she just doesn't know who he is in the first place.
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