Avril Lavigne returns after 5 years with ballad heavy record
Avril Lavigne disappeared from the pop scene for over five years after she dropped her self-titled album at the end of 2013. The original skater girl who dominated the charts in the noughties went through a lot during her absence. She divorced Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and had a lengthy battle with lyme disease. She came back stronger than ever before last year with the gorgeous ballad ‘Head Above Water’ and now the album with the same name follows. Does Avril still have what it takes after such a long break?
As was expected after the first single and the soulful slow burner ‘Tell Me It’s Over’ which was released as the second, Head Above Water is a ballad heavy album. This however does not mean that it is a boring, repetitive affair. Although Lavigne sounds more understated and mature, she still manages to bring in different genres of midtempos and ballads to the table. ‘Birdie’, one of the highlights of the album, mixes her early days pop rock sound with a contemporary production and a killer chorus. ‘I Fell In Love With The Devil’ follows a similar pattern and has one of the strongest hooks to be found on the record.
With Lauren Christy, she wrote the gorgeous ballad ‘It Was In Me’ which is all about finding happiness from within, instead of depending on others, alcohol or material things to achieve it. “Now let me feel high when I’m sober”, she belts out in the spine-tingling chorus. Sonically the track has a similar vibe and build up to the wonderful classic ‘I’m With You’. This is exactly the type of song I was hoping to hear on this album after the lead single.
Unfortunately, the second half of Head Above Water can’t quite keep up with the first bit. ‘Goddess’ has a nice little vibe going on, but is killed by its cringe inducing lyrics. The rhyming in lines like “He thinks I’m sexy in my pajamas, The more I am a hot mess, the more he goes bananas’ is tragic. It is easy to hear what kind of empowering story about overcoming a major struggle in life she wants to tell on album closer ‘Warrior’, but unfortunately the lyrics of the chorus never get past a level of cliche. We have heard lines like ‘And I won’t give up, I will survive, I’m a warrior and I’m stronger, that’s why I’m alive’ countless times before.
Having said that, the album is almost a cohesive mix of pop ballads and mid-tempos with some hints of soul and rock, if it wasn’t for ‘Dumb Blonde’ featuring Nicki Minaj. It is the only bop to be found and messes with the flow as the sound is not at all in line with the rest of the record. It is not a bad track per se and brings back some of Avril’s early days attitude, but in context to the album it sounds like it was the one bop she had to push as a single because her label thought a slow album like Head Above Water would be too much of a risk.
Avril Lavigne definitely brings a more mature sound and her vocals sound more powerful than ever. Songs like ‘Head Above Water’, ‘Birdie’ and ‘It Was In Me’ are easily highlights in her career, but unfortunately she did not manage to keep that level up throughout the whole record, both in terms of melodies and lyrics. Either way it is nice to see Avril release another album in 2019 and I will definitely be using half of this in my playlists for the foreseeable future!