Avril Lavigne is at a creative crossroads. The once rebellious 29-year-old now finds herself with little against which to define herself. Where a younger Lavigne once found inspiration in the instability of youth, her apparent life of privilege is hardly fodder for the kind of angst-ridden songs she’s famous for. With so little to rebel against, the pointedly titled Avril Lavigne, her fifth album, becomes an exercise in rediscovering her identity.
Lavigne explores a variety of musical styles throughout the album, from country to EDM to her usual brand of pop-punk, and while that kind of diversity can produce intriguing juxtapositions (see Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz, where genres are treated as malleable, not rigid structures) Avril Lavigne is ultimately just a handful of watered-down genre tropes trotted out seemingly because they’re on trend. “Bad Girl” is a dull piece of nü-metal, featuring a phoned-in performance by a disinterested Marilyn Manson. “I’ve been a bad girl, don’t you know?/Come get it now or never/I’ll let you do whatever,” Lavigne sings, taking a line loaded with the potential to make a statement about a girl’s sexual agency and instead settling for basic provocation. “Here’s to Never Growing Up” is a half-baked ode to independence, halfheartedly evoking some sort of nostalgia (Lavigne mentions Radiohead and boomboxes in the chorus for some reason), while taking a vague, lackluster stab at capturing teenage rebellion.
Songs like that and “Sippin’ on Sunshine” reduce the aimless nature of teens and twentysomethings to an easy turn of phrase and a sing-along chorus. What made Lavigne’s earliest work significant was how she refused to treat issues typically associated with youth as trivial, instead providing insight into how kids often broadcast a “don’t give a fuck” attitude that’s at odds with their deeper insecurities. It’s why her first hit, “Complicated,” is still a resonant pop song, an anti-poser anthem that astutely dissects the identity crises of so many young people.
Such honesty is nowhere to be found here. Lavigne explores well-trodden themes of carefree summers and the blissful ignorance of youth on “Bitchin’ Summer,” a standout track that boasts one of the album’s only earworm melodies, but she fails to engage with anything close to resembling nuance or newfound energy, instead relying on rote couplets like “Everybody’s bakin’ in the sun/Come and party, do it while we’re young.” Avril Lavigne is filled with similar empty life-affirming mantras and boasts of rebelliousness. Lavigne has mined these themes with success in the past, but here the exploration feels forced, as if she’s trying to capture an attitude, and craft a persona, that she no longer lives.