Avril Lavigne Struggles To Pick Up The Pieces Of Her Shattered Career In Head Above Water

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 8 mins read

When you think of Avril Lavigne, there’re typically two images which pop up immediately in your head; The generic but absolutely enrapturing faux-Pop Punk era of her career with the iconic Teen bops “Complicated” & “Sk8er Boi” – the latter of which ruled my eight grade summer – or the annoying, self-absorbed, culturally-insensitive garbage of her third album when she was trying to make the whole ‘I’m a fucking princess” gimmick stick in songs like “Girlfriend” form her horrendous third record – After The Best Damn Thing dropped in 2007, it was pretty much unanimously decided that the mainstream music industry would excommunicate Lavigne as a person & a musician, nipping things in the bud in order to prevent her from causing further damage to the Pop music realm, an act that for all intents & purposes actually seemed to work in subsequent years as she faded from all popular media altogether. Her next few records barely made a splash outside her immediate circle of followers & the world seemed genuinely pleased with her absence as the industry continued to shift away from Club Dance & Pop Punk sensibilities, some even going so far as to claim she’d committed suicide in various conspiracy theories to explain her irrelevance in the modern age, but a short stint with Lyme disease would soon thrust her back into the limelight, softening everyone’s harsh criticisms & building hope that her forthcoming record Head Above Water would be the one to break the cycle, presenting audiences with a more mature Lavigne who’d learned from her missteps, prepared to reintroduce herself to the masses in a major way – Well, I’m not one to discredit the absolutely devastating effects of life-threatening diseases, but it seems we might’ve given her far too big a benefit of the doubt, as this record is once-again a heaping pile of filth no amount of sympathy could wash clean.

Christianity – The Industry’s Cheapest Crutch

At face value, I’m generally not the type of person you’d want to consult for an opinion on faith-based rhetoric in music, as I’m pretty firm in my beliefs as an Athiest that anything you can’t explain through science has no right being pushed in popular media, but I’m not someone who is without heart; I can certainly see the value in religious teachings for shaping people into more caring beings – something that’s not always reflected in the actions of the faithful – & I find the musical compositions of Contemporary Christian powerhouse Hillsong UNITED or the latest Mumford & Sons offerings to be especially well-produced pieces of sonic material, but by & large the concept of Christianity is abused as a tool to get into mainstream audiences’ hearts, preying on their beliefs to garner widespread acceptance even when the underlying music is subpar – Hot off the life-altering circumstances of her crippling disease, Avril Lavigne leans heavily into religious iconography for her lead single “Head Above Water,” indulging in the tried & true practice of utilizing sweeping soundscapes with slow, methodical symphonic instrumentation to convince her listeners she & they are having a spiritual experience that’s larger than life, injecting a few phrases about asking her ‘god’ for help to remain true to herself, pulling through her most turbulent times with the aid of a higher power; It’s weak, uninspired & totally panders to those of a faith-based background, relying on their cultural proclivities to give this song a more spectacular presence than it truly deserves – But this isn’t the only number to shamelessly prey on the pious listener, as “It Was In Me” delivers yet-another recreation of this anachronistic Pop aesthetic, calling upon downtempo power drums, strings & nondescript lyrical narratives to rekindle the sort of grandiose soundscapes you’d find in early-noughties era Pop- & Soft-Rock arrangements, robbing her listeners of the melodic progression they deserved from such an aging artist by rehashing trends of yesteryear that’ve already had their day – Maybe I’m just being too critical, but this is nowhere near the ‘reinvention’ I was expecting when Head Above Water was announced; It’s neither entertaining nor original & it just rubs me the wrong way.

Academic Attitude Makes A Comeback

With my misgivings about Avril Lavigne’s Head Above Water laid out in earnest for all too see, it’s actually quite funny that the only song with any sort of personality or character whatsoever is “Dumb Blonde,” a track that turns back time to the late-noughties schoolyard-anthem style we adored back when Gwen Stefani first hit us with “Hollaback Girl,” especially considering it features my least-favourite contemporary artist of all time Nicki Minaj. While it’s production values are pretty barebones throughout, with awkward tonal imbalances between the high-frequency & low-frequency levels rendering the spritely percussion wimpy as all hell, the actual composition of the song is nothing short of spectacular, presenting listeners with a fiery fusion of staccato marching band drum cadences alongside flirty-but-empowered Riot Grrrl Punk-adjacent energy in the best of ways, culminating in an exhilarating hype-song that makes you want to strap on a pair of Chucks & black your eyes before unpotting the hydrangeas in your stuffy neighbour’s yard & throwing them into the street, all the while throwing up a big middle finger to ‘the man’ & shouting obscenities at the policemen who come to restrain your drunken rage – It’s a fierce number with the best vocal melodies of the entire album, supported by abrasive guitar lines that get your blood pumping, sarcastic anthem choruses that put you right back in the shoes of your reckless 16-year old body & clear influences from Charli XCX that make you proud of the anti-discriminatory progress we’ve made in the gender-equality discussion of recent years – It’s just a shame this is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to the wasted talent expressed across Head Above Water’s incohesive runtime.

It’s Hard To Reinvent The Genre Wheel These Days

Moments of artistic levity aside, if you had any question whether Avril Lavigne was putting her all into this record or if she was simply going through the motions to produce another directionless album designed to pique the interests of as wide an audience as possible, you need look no further than Head Above Water’s second promotional single “Tell Me It’s Over,” a tune which virtually encompasses all of the poor choices you’ll encounter when scrubbing through this album – This track is the perfect embodiment of just how far Lavigne’s grasp of reality has fallen over the years. It’s comprised of a peculiar fusion of Bluesy Doo-Wop instrumentation akin to Kelsea Ballerini’s “I Hate Love Songs” or Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” & Trap instrumentation that she for some reason determined was an appropriate blending of styles, dragging down the more expressive brassy horns & floating chord progressions of the classic aesthetic with an unnecessary attempt at appealing to modern trends. Not only is the percussion mixed incorrectly & the general fidelity of the tune lacking in polish, her vocals are absolutely insincere in both story design & melody, sung in a half-heartedly soulful way that have no passion behind them whatsoever, resulting in an arrangement that feels more like an unfinished sonic experiment than a musical style she really believes in; Contrast this with the works of Charlie Puth who makes you believe he truly cares about & was raised on Funk techniques or the highly-accurate nineties-era Freestyle machinations of Bruno Mars & you’ll start to see what I mean by there just being no sense of authenticity in what Lavigne is trying to achieve here, cheapening the effect of the album s a whole – When all is said & done, I really believe Lavigne’s battle with Lyme disease & seeming struggle with mental health were the only reasons anyone gave a damn about Head Above Water in the months leading up to its release, ‘cause now that it’s here I can’t find any reason to continue believing she’s actually matured from the self-centered artist she was way back on The Best Damn Thing, which is an absolute shame considering I genuinely enjoyed her gimmicky Pop Punk tunes back in my adolescence. I guess old habits really do die hard, eh?

2. Track List (12)

3. Official (12)

4. Live (1)

5. Featuring Remixes (4)

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About

Head Above Water is the sixth studio album by Canadian singer Avril Lavigne. It was released on February 15, 2019, through BMG Rights Management. It is Lavigne's first studio release since her self-titled fifth studio album (2013), marking the longest gap between two of her studio albums. Lavigne assumed an integral role in the album's production and collaborated with several producers including Stephan Moccio, Chris Baseford, Johan Carlsson, Lauren Christy from The Matrix, Ryan Cabrera, Travis Clark of We the Kings, Bonnie McKee, JR Rotem and Mitch Allan among others.
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Songwriter

  • Avril Lavigne

Label

  • BMG

Producer

  • Avril Lavigne
  • Stephan Moccio
  • Johan Carlsson
  • Jon Levine
  • JR Rotem
  • Mitch Allan
  • Chris Baseford