[We're a pretty diverse bunch of reviewers over here at Styrofoam Boots, but it's not unfair to say that there are at least a few genres we don't(or won't) cover, teenybopper pop chief among them. That's where this installment's special guest reviewer, Charlie George, comes in. Drawing parallels to Ricky Bobby in having two first names, Charlie is an all-American teenager who loves Captain Beefheart and Electric Wizard as much as he does Alanis Morisette and Demi Lovato. Today he charges through the latter end of the spectrum and tells us why Avril Lavigne's latest is actually a damn good album. Personally, I think it's a very compelling review and an interesting take on an album I would otherwise have no interest in. Hopefully you'll agree by the time you finish reading. Take it away, Charlie!-CJ]
Celebrity gossip has always been frowned upon in my family. My parents have always held the belief that, since they'd probably get divorced after giving each other STD's anyway, there's no sane reason to keep up with, lets say, an actress's love life. But when Avril Lavigne, an artist who I've adored since second grade, was getting married to Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley, I had a strange sense of hope that she wouldn't fall into the same trap as all the others. After all, Avril has never been your typical celebrity: At the beginning of her career, she was correctly labeled as the "anti-Britney", penning lyrics as charismatic as her seventeen-year-old vocabulary possibly could; and while her Radio Disney friends have foolishly looked to the future of autotune for their music, each of Avril's albums have been drenched with nineties influence, from Radiohead and Pearl Jam at best to Blink-182 at worst. If the bottom did fall through for them, I thought, I must've been wrong all these years thinking she was something special; I would have to drink the KoolAid and learn to put up with Lady Gaga ripoffs for the rest of my days.
Well, the bottom did end up falling through for Avril and Deryck, but not in the way I expected. While I thought that this breakup would expose Avril as the overdue Britney Spears wannabe that music publications have led millions to believe, it ended up showing the world (me, at least) how talented, tasteful, and kindhearted she's always been. The product of her turmoil, Goodbye Lullaby, doesn't contain a trace of autotune whatsoever; moreover, it doesn't rely nearly as much on singles as her predecessors, and is meant to be listened to in one sitting. In fact, this album isn't even a Jagged Little Pill: Deryck and Avril worked together on this masterpiece, creating what is essentially the Radio Disney equivalent of Blood on the Tracks or (GASP!!!!) Pet Sounds. But with Whibley at the helm here, there's a sense of synergy through the tracks not unlike the modern classic White Blood Cells from the White Stripes. If I can vaguely describe the magic found here today, I'll be more than happy with this review.
The first half of Goodbye Lullaby is fairly light, focusing on the joy and excitement of being in love. It starts out with the short-but-sweet "Black Star", which, despite it's original endorsement for her girly fragrances, is still easily applicable to Deryck.
Now, it's important to note that, even with this deep topic, Avril never once reaches a state of pretension. This is especially true of this happy first half, mixing sixties girlgroup harmonies and genuine pop hooks with F-bombs and stories of getting wasted. For this reason, people have scoffed at "What the Hell"'s overly-commercial presence so early into the album. But to me, this just shows that, whether overjoyed or remorseful, she's always willing to have a little fun. Plus, if you give the track a few listens, I promise it'll grow on you. Trust me.
One thing you'll also notice is a surprising level of hi-fi value throughout the record. Like a female Jeff Mangum, Avril's guitar-playing (yes, she plays it herself!) in every track is so organic, you can't help but smile. What she lacks in technical prowess she more than makes up in emotion through her instrument.
Anyway, the rest of side one goes very nicely, with little to no filler. "Push" hints at the turmoil in their relationship, stating that "Even when it gets tough... Baby this is love". At the same time, it (along with several other cuts here) has a sound just like her debut album Let Go. But it's the much more solemn second half where Avril really reaches a Wilson-calibur psyche. "Everybody Hurts" has Avril repeating that "it's OK", even though she knows it's not. Or, as Dylan would say, "something is happening and you don't know what it is; Do you, Mr. Whibley?"
And like any tragedy, it only gets more tragic as time goes on. "Darlin" was one of the first songs she ever wrote, but it seems hand-crafted for Goodbye Lullaby, with her singing "There's nothing Else I can do but love you the best that I can". But her somewhat-content acoustic strumming turns into absolute melancholy near the end of "Remember When". From the beginning of that song, you'd never expect it, with a simple Coldplay-esque piano riff. But around 2:15, Avril screams in a way that would make Clare Torry proud, finally admitting "That was then, now it's the end".
But not unlike Trent Reznor in The Downward Spiral, Avril still has something to say. The last track, "Goodbye", is truly her equivalent of "Hurt". But not only does she match the late Johnny Cash emotion-for-emotion, but she has the same optimistic look on her destruction: "I have to go, I have to go; I have to go, and leave you alone. But always know, always know, always know that I love you so."
Guys, along with being an astounding record on it's own, Goodbye Lullaby has taught me something I'll never forget. Even though I'm flooded with stories of celebrity breakups everyday, I must remember not to scoff at them. These "celebutards", as my family would say, may seem to have no artistic value at first, pronouncing David Bowie's name wrong and getting into trouble with DUI's. But we must never forget that they have feelings, too. Feelings that, as crazy as it sounds, can sometimes turn into masterpieces like this. Sure, most girly pop albums are just lowest-common-denominator trash, but Goodbye Lullaby isn't like that. It's truly one of the most magical albums of the year. Thank you, and I hope you get the chance to give this a listen.