Being a child prodigy is no piece of cake. As a toddler Avril Lavigne began singing. And like many performers, she started with Gospel in church, before moving to county fairs and Country favorites. Following various singing competitions, Lavigne seemed destined for a pop friendly (think "American Idol") recording career - but it was not to be.
At sixteen, she ventured to NY and impressed R&B/pop producer-songwriter L.A. Reid. Signed to Arista, Reid's label, they went into the studio to create magic. But there wasn't any. Unhappy with the pop direction and the suggestion that others write for her, Lavigne bounced to the left coast, hooked up with producer-songwriter Clif Magness and started over again.
Tagged as the "anti-Britney (Spears)" the eighteen year old Napanee, Ontario, native's '02 debut album "Anything But Ordinary" sold millions. That was followed in "04 by "Under My Skin."
Lavigne made her on screen feature film debut (following a couple TV cameo appearances) in '06's Fast Food Nation and voiced a character in the animated film Over The Hedge.
On the non-entertainment side, Lavigne launched a clothing line, Abbey Dawn and two perfumes, Black Star and Forbidden Rose.
One thing is for sure, pop and Rock stars are smarter than they used to be. The old idea was to strike while the iron was hot. Keep the hits coming until either the group ran out of energy or ideas. Of course, this process led to burn-out, for both the group and the audience. It made for high impact, but relatively short careers.
Another showbiz notion, "leave 'em wanting more" is a far better option. Lavigne, at the top or relatively close, took a year-and-a-half off and got married to Deryck Whibley, lead singer and guitarist for Sum 41, whom she'd known for two years, before releasing "The Best Damn Thing" in '07. During that time, Lavigne had a chance to re-charge and try some new things. She was rewarded with a couple chart hits.
After completing '08's The Best Damn Tour, Lavigne began work on her next album. It turned out to be another lengthy process (two-and-a-half years). "I write my own music and, therefore, it takes me longer to put out records 'cause I have to live my life to get inspiration," Lavigne noted.
After three years or marriage, Lavigne and Whibley divorced though they continued to work together, most notably on the song "Alice" for Tim Burton's film Alice In Wonderland and Lavigne's '11 album "Goodbye Lullaby."
Within months of "Goodbye Lullaby's" release, Lavigne began work on her fifth studio album, taking a break to contribute two cover songs (Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" and Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation") to the Japanese animated film One Piece Film: Z and to get married to Nickelback's Chad Kroeger on 7/1/13. The couple honeymooned in Portofino, Italy.
"'Goodbye Lullaby' was more mellow, [but] the next one will be pop and more fun again," Lavigne explained. The lead single from her self-titled album, "Here's To Never Growing Up," peaked at #20 on Billboard Hot 100. Two more singles were released from the set, "Rock N' Roll" and "Let Me Go." The latter featured Kroeger who helped write and record the album.
2002 Let Go
2004 Under My Skin
2007 The Best Damn Thing
2011 Goodbye Lullaby
2013 Avril Lavigne
"Anything But Ordinary" features the pumping guitar Rocker "Sk8er Boi" but much of the album, including opening track "Losing Grip" and hit single "Complicated," tread Shawn Colvin/Sheryl Crow/Michelle Shocked turf - from a teen perspective. It's not a bad place for a singer/pseudo-songwriter (she has lots of help) but it doesn't allow much room for Rockin', though "Sk8er Boi" and the accessible "Mobile" show she can hit the mark.
After a debut that sells over 14 million copies there's little desire, or need, to mess with the formula. Uncertainty and misgivings permeate "Under My Skin," a down tempo, largely acoustic effort that's not significantly different from "Anything But Ordinary." "Something just isn't right" ("Together"), "I am small and the world is big" ("How Does It Feel") and "I'm giving up on everything because you messed me up" ("Forgotten") are typical lyrics. The album tends to be a little darker than its predecessor but Lavigne has the sense to keep things moving. "He Wasn't" is a good Rocker while "Freak Out" features some electronic noise on its way to a potent guitar line. This won't blow the doors off - sophomore albums rarely do - but it keeps the legions of faithful satiated.
Following a performance by a Led Zeppelin covers band a female audience member approached the guitarist and innocently asked, "why are all Zeppelin songs about sex?" The guitarist shrugged and replied, "what else is there?" Well, actually, there's a lot. But it does illustrate the importance of perspective. Most performers capable of singing in Robert Plant's Zeppelin-era range (usually women) tend to focus more on relationships. Sex is part of the equation but not the driving force. Longing, fulfillment, confidence, control, lust and yes, even love, are the topics of "The Best Damn Thing."
Album opener, "Girlfriend," is a catchy tune with the "hey, hey, you you" vocal hook. It's followed by the self-explanatory, boyfriend kiss-off, "I Can Do Better." No doubt. The title track is an example of "period" Rock as Lavigne airs grievances about being stuck at home during that time of the month. The lusty "Hot" and "One Of The Girls," with the "on to the next one" motif, illustrates Lavigne's less vulnerable (and more attractive) side. She strides a power pop sound with just enough punkette-snark to keep from getting whiney or saccharine.
On an album with a collection of strong uptempo songs, there are three notable ballads - each a little different. The acoustic guitar anchored longing of "When You're Gone" compliments with the heartfelt piano-based "Innocence." The album ends with the perfect arena ballad, "Keep Holding On."
And speaking of ballads... with the album titled "Goodbye Lullaby" it's no surprise there's an acoustic guitar ballad ("Darlin'"), a piano ballad ("Remember When"), a ballad with strings ("Goodbye") and a slow dance ballad ("Real"), that's the best of the lot. Lavigne's emotional mine fields dominate the album. But when she uncorks her snarl on "What The Hell" and "Smile" she really shows her strength.
Katy Perry, Lavigne is moving into your neighborhood. "Avril Lavigne" is a straight-up pop album. There's still angst and rebellion but wrapped in a petty pop confection. While many question Nickelback's cred, even a dose of Kroeger's Rock sensibilities would have been appreciated. As it stands, he seems well out of earshot. "Rock N' Roll" is hardly a Rock song while "Here's To Never Growing Up" name checks Radiohead without shame - or purpose. Yet those two tracks plus the Dance-Rock "17" and "Bad Girl" are the set's saving grace.