After the overnight success of her multi-platinum debut Let Go, it wasn’t difficult to peg Avril Lavigne as something far more dangerous than Britney Spears: a teenage girl dressed up by studio producers and salivating record label execs as the Anti-Britney (in short, Britney with a necktie and a scowl painted on her face as a marketing ploy to capitalize on the inevitable pop fallout). With her perpetually flaunted lack of pop-cult awareness and admitted, unapologetic ignorance of all things “rock” (until a year or so ago she didn’t know who the Sex Pistols were—and, judging by her pronunciation of his name, David-frickin’-Bowie too), the only other explanation was that she was a natural-born talent with an inherent gift like Mozart or an Asian violin prodigy. Go ahead and laugh. But judging by Avril’s follow-up, Under My Skin, if she’s a poser, she sure poses well.
Under My Skin is more metal than “punk” (the label some in the press were quick to slap on Avril, and one she fiercely denounces, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it had “King of Pop”-style origins), and it’s a sound the young and feisty Canadian adopts rather convincingly (Amy Lee be warned). The disc starts with a (head)bang, the opening track “Take Me Away” conjuring ‘80s metal with heaps of guitars and vocal overdubs (apparently 15 Avrils are better than one). She shrewdly ditches her pop confectioners The Matrix this time around, enlisting former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody for three songs, including “Forgotten,” a stand-out track built around an ominous piano arpeggio and an exploding guitar riff, and the less successful “Nobody’s Home.” That song’s title is indicative of Avril’s biggest weakness: words.
While the hooks here are undeniable, Avril’s lyrics are often vague or archetypical. “There’s not much going on today/I’m really bored, it’s getting late,” she sings on the crappy faux-punk tune “He Wasn’t.” Elsewhere, the immature posturing that once made the very idea of Avril insufferable rears its ugly head on songs like “Freak Out”: “Try to tell me what to do/You should know by now/I won’t listen to you!” And while it’s interesting to hear shades of the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Roirdan’s yodel in Avril’s voice (“How Does It Feel,” “Forgotten”), she enunciates every syllable to within an inch of her life, and a chorus of Avrils shouting “Ye-ah, ye-ah!” begins to sound like a parody by the ninth track in. This time things may be less bounce and more crunch, but it’s suspiciously uneven for rock’s supposed prodigious daughter.