Avril Lavigne has always had a special place in my heart, whether I knew it or not. On one hand, she is one of the iconic pop artists of the early 2000’s, to me at least. Back then, her sound was a unique blend of pop and punk, especially on her first album Let Go. Avril Lavigne was my introduction to pop-punk, which has since become one of my favorite genres. She is also one of my wife’s favorite artists. Some of her songs were on a playlist that played at our reception. Somehow, in one form or another, she has been a part of my life for many years.
Now, Avril Lavigne has grown and matured as an artist. Most notably , she suffers from the unrelenting grip of Lyme Disease. After years of writing music and coming to terms with this chronic illness, she has completely changed from the youthful artist she was in 2003. Her music shows this change. Head Above Water is more honest and poppy that her older material, which is sure to drive some fans away, however, her voice and songwriting abilities are still top notch. Her lyrics are still packed with emotion that touches something deep inside of me.
I don’t like pop music, but that’s no secret. However, I cannot deny someone is a good lyricist, nor can I deny that someone is a good songwriter. Avril Lavigne is both. Her words are on point as her voice soars above a piano’s delicate chirp or an electronic beat thumps in the background.
With Head Above Water, Avril Lavigne asserts that she has a strong voice. She stretches her sound beyond pop-punk chords and teenage angst, and introduces us to deeper themes billowing with raw emotion. The title track, for example, hits home from anyone who struggles with a chronic issue. This could be a health issue or something else that slashes at your morale. Either way, this anthem serves as a conduit for Avril Lavigne to communicate her pain as she pleads her case and thrashes to remain “above water”.
Lyrically, this album is bursting at the seams with raw emotion. As she marches through each song, Avril Lavigne unloads stress and pain into her microphone as she urges us to join her in fighting against the evils that rock our cages and jab at our confidence.
Head Above Water is more poppy than her older material. However, it isn’t unjustifiably different, after all Avril Lavigne has always stood on the line between rock and pop. Sometimes she swayed toward punk and other times she even had a country vibe. Likewise, Head Above Water has some moments that are more poppy than others, such as her collaboration with Nicki Minaj. She even experiments with gospel on one track.
Songs Worth Investigating
“It Was In Me” is a song about finding one self. This is a common theme for pop-punk artists to embrace, so it isn’t any surprise Avril Lavigne would pen a song like this. That being said, this song rests far from her roots, after all, it is a pop song. However, the lyrics are still bold and stitched close to home.
“Head Above Water” was a great first single. It helped Avril Lavigne announce the birth of a great single and a change in her sound. Rather than rocking out with a guitar and screaming about kicking to remain alive, she takes a softer, more measured approach. While some may not agree with this change, her voice is perfectly fitted to her newly chosen genre.
“Tell Me It’s Over” has a gospel flair, sleazy beats and a pop sheen. This combination works wonderfully as Avril Lavigne’s voice ties these styles together perfectly in a classic break up song.
…And to Conclude
Head Above Water has little filler (I found “Bigger Wow” and “Souvenir” to be a little bland) and several good tracks. Even “Dumb Blonde”, the song that features Nicki Minaj is fun and sounds like a radio hit. While the album is a huge turn away from her earlier music, and not perfect, Head Above Water is a satisfying record. However, the lack of perfection meshes well with the singer’s trademarked style of following her own path.
The album is also brimming with a passionate, melancholy atmosphere. The words, and Avril Lavigne’s voice, remain strong and positive despite the overwhelming sense of dread and ugliness hiding just off camera. From my experience, this is a realistic representation of everyday life. Life isn’t polished by an audio engineer or a producer, rather it is messy and imperfect.