“A first taste like honey, you were so yum/Can’t wait for a second, cause it’s so fun,” is a line from the song “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” off Avril Lavigne’s self-titled fifth studio album. It’s a line that’s cutesy and cloying, but look, if you can, beyond it, and soak in the beautifully crafted pop song that houses it. From “Sk8er Boi” to “Girlfriend” to the underrated “What The Hell,” Lavigne has always released pop music that defies dissection, ruffling the feathers of scholars with cries of “Hey, hey! You, you! I don’t like your girlfriend,” and disregarding high art for a meaty chorus. The thing is, Lavigne has always been highly skilled at this practice — ever since she began spitting the polysyllabic pile-up of the “Complicated” chorus, Lavigne has stayed in her lane, cranked out an album’s worth of enjoyable pop-rock every three years or so, and kept her image and integrity intact. For someone who often focuses on the irresponsibilities of youth, Lavigne has proven herself as one of mainstream music’s most reliable personalities; her commitment to bestowing us with impudent anthems is almost workmanlike.
There are new faces on “Avril Lavigne” — notably her husband, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, who co-wrote most of the album and sings with Lavigne on “Let Me Go.” There is a new label, Epic Records, which reunites Lavigne with Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who helped bring her music to the masses. But for the most part, Lavigne’s fifth full-length encapsulates everything worth loving about the 29-year-old’s long-running artistry. There are zero attempts at growing up, but instead there is “Here’s To Never Growing Up,” the album’s marvelous lead single, as well as a kick in the groin called “Bad Girl,” featuring Marilyn Manson; “Bitchin’ Summer,” about how awesome the summer is going to be; and “Falling Fast,” a love song that could soundtrack a flurry of proms come springtime. In spite of the subject matter, the songwriting has never been sharper, and unlike 2011’s “Goodbye Lullaby,” which featured moments in which Lavigne sounded unsure of herself, the singer is fully in control here. When she concludes that line from “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” with “Third base, I’m headed for a home run/Don’t stop baby, don’t stop baby now,” she tries to sell her words with the most charming of poses. Needless to say, she succeeds.
Which songs on “Avril Lavigne” are worth adding to your hottest playlist? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of Avril Lavigne’s new album.
1. Rock n Roll
The second single from “Avril Lavigne” is as good of a lead-off track as any: bombastic, sneering but defiantly listenable, “Rock n Roll” reveals its best details — the chunkiness of the guitar solo, the line “I ain’t never gonna cover up that tattoo” — in repeated listens.
2. Here’s To Never Growing Up
After putting up “a middle finger to the sky” to rock haters on the previous track, Lavigne does the same to the inescapable passage of time on “Here’s To Never Growing Up,” a fantastically bratty single that, ironically enough, gets better with age. Engineered as a cups-hoisted drinking song, the song recognizes its hook and lets it radiate, ultimately becoming impossible to resist.
3. 17 – Avril Lavigne was 17 when she was putting together the songs on her 2002 debut “Let Go,” and the 29-year-old looks back on those wistfully on the immaculate pop-rock track “17.” Like the “Avril Lavigne” singles that precede it, “17” is stunningly arranged, swirling a steady beat, long acoustic strums and yelping vocals that refract the mischievous glow of youth.
4. Bitchin’ Summer – Lavigne’s personal cry of “Schoooooool’s out… for… summer!” takes the form of “Bitchin’ Summer,” a mid-tempo scoop of twang that revels in its harmless rebelliousness. “I’ll pick you up at the liquor store/Hurry up, we can fit one more,” Lavigne snickers, as if she was not a decade removed from high school. Put this one on ice until June, and then blare it with little abandon.
5. Let Me Go feat. Chad Kroeger
Almost as shocking as last year’s out-of-nowhere union of Lavigne and Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger: their duet, “Let Me Go,” is a pained breakup song! The hubby-wife collaboration is thoroughly dramatic after four carefree tracks on “Avril Lavigne,” and while the voice don’t blend perfectly, the duet is strong enough to avoid sounding forced or cobbled together.
6. Give You What You Like – The bright-eyed innocence of “17” and “Bitchin’ Summer” have vanished on “Give You What You Like,” a harrowing glimpse inside the exchange of physical pleasures to combat loneliness. The production plods a bit, but Lavigne’s fragile performance reminds the listener that the vocalist from “I’m With You” hasn’t gone anywhere.
7. Bad Girl feat. Marilyn Manson – The high-profile collaboration with Marilyn Manson is salacious, sloppy, muddied rock music — as it damn well should be. As Lavigne writhes in the spotlight, Manson shrieks his encouragement, and the rubber-necking audience is treated to a spitballing session that turned into glorious chaos.
8. Hello Kitty – As compelling of a car-crash “Bad Girl” was, “Hello Kitty” has the opposite effect: it’s a bold stab at a genre outside of Lavigne’s oeuvre (here, dark-edged techno-pop), but it never comes together. By the 20th time “Hello Kitty, you’re so pretty” is declared, the listener’s attention is already on the next track.
9. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet – Lavigne travels back to her well-worn pop-rock path and spins a tale of quickly forged romance that could have easily fit in on “The Best Damn Thing.” “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” is not quite as solid as “Avril Lavigne’s” uptempo singles, but it’s almost there, and the unabashedly joyful bridge is worth a listen on its own.
10. Sippin’ on Sunshine – The first song on the album to shove the bass to the forefront, “Sippin’ on Sunshine” is a light, surprisingly funky hoedown that translates the echoing chorus of “Here’s To Never Growing Up” to a lyrics sheet that could play well on adult contemporary radio.
11. Hello Heartache – “I was champagne/You were Jameson,” Lavigne laments on this straightforward breakup track. The ghouls crowing “la-la-la” in the background amplify Lavigne’s pain, and although the sentiment at the heart of “Hello Heartache” is a simple one, it’s no less impactful.
12. Falling Fast – There are moments on “Avril Lavigne” that the singer seems primed for a country-pop makeover, and “Falling Fast” is the clearest, and best, example of Lavigne’s subtle shift toward Nashville’s biggest genre. The song’s breathy delivery, hushed rock elements and crystallized melody would all be at home on a Taylor Swift album.
13. Hush Hush – The great thing about the songwriting on “Avril Lavigne” is that it always conveys a deeper meaning without overreaching or busting out the thesaurus. The piano-driven “Hush Hush” emits a rush of feelings — regret, anger, desperation, nakedness, and finally, faint hopefulness — and unpacks them tidily while presenting Lavigne as a pop artist one can still trust to handle the job.