After Avril Lavigne moved in a more decidedly pop direction on The Best Damn Thing, Goodbye Lullaby finds the erstwhile mall punk once again trying her hand at a more mature record. Though she’s brought in top-tier pop producers like Max Martin and Butch Walker, the results really aren’t any more impressive than they were on her sophomore effort, Under My Skin.
Lavigne can pull off a bratty sneer well enough, but she simply isn’t convincing when she attempts to sing about anything more substantial than a perceived social slight. “Stop Standing There” highlights her inability to craft a coherent narrative, with empty-headed couplets like “Please tell me who you are/So I can show you who I am” taking the place of any specific, first-person details. “Push,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Smile” all mistake having a potty mouth for having an actual personality. Lavigne refers to herself as a “crazy bitch” on “Smile,” trying to co-opt some of Ke$ha’s trashiness but never committing to it fully, while “Wish You Were Here” fails to pass off “Damn, damn, damn/What I’d do to have you here, here, here” as a hook. The songwriting is just too paper thin and half-assed to develop into anything resembling maturity.
Early in her career, Lavigne showed some promise as a distinctive vocalist capable of more emotionally resonant performances than most of her contemporaries, but here she sounds disconnected and aloof on tracks like “I Love You” and “Everybody Hurts” (mercifully, not an R.E.M. cover). Her tone is particularly shrill and affected on “Goodbye,” a sweeping pop ballad that would be better suited for a singer like Leona Lewis or Kelly Clarkson. Lavigne has a much better voice than she’s often credited with, but Goodbye Lullaby rarely capitalizes on it, and she spends most of the record straining equally hard for pathos and notes she doesn’t quite hit.
It’s up to producers Martin, Walker, and Deryck Whibley to attempt to salvage the album, then, and they lacquer on plenty of studio sheen. On the most superficial levels, Goodbye Lullaby sounds just fine. Martin ensures that lead single “What the Hell” explodes into its chorus to great effect, making its slight refrain of “All my life I’ve been good/But now I’m thinking ‘what the hell’” sound more massive than it probably should. Even though Lavigne doesn’t give him much of a song to work with, the layered, acoustic-driven arrangement that Walker brings to “Stop Standing There” provides more evidence that he has some of the sharpest pop instincts around. Since her production team more or less comes through for her, it’s ultimately on Lavigne’s slight shoulders that Goodbye Lullaby is such a strident, ineffectual attempt at a serious pop record.