When Avril released her Christian-tinged comeback single, “Head Above Water,” a couple of months ago (read more here), it seemed that she was ready to stake her claim in the new world of pop. Avril’s last major release was her eponymous 2013 album. That record was a collection of grave mistakes (“Hello Kitty”); sad attempts at her glory days (“Here’s to Never Growing Up”); and underrated ballads (“Let Me Go”). It was a schizophrenic mess that she seemed poised to clean up with 2019’s Head Above Water.
Where does Avril Lavigne fit in the music landscape of 2019? This is an interesting question. The heavy guitars and chant-like choruses that hallmarked some of her biggest hits have been traded for melodic trap beats and half-sung/half-rapped midtempo tracks. “Head Above Water” appeared to be Avril’s transition into adult-contemporary tracks in the vein of Kelly Clarkson and P!NK; Instead, the album that Avril delivered was nothing short of a disaster.
Head Above Water lacks commitment. The contemporary Christian music feel of the title track is only shared with “I Feel in Love with the Devil,” which is marred by weak songwriting. Lavigne jumps from doo-wop influences to power pop and back to classic pop-rock in a confusing fashion. Despite her strong and earnest vocal performance, “Tell Me It’s Over” sounds like a reject from Meghan Trainor’s debut album. And then there’s the erratic “Dumb Blonde” a marching-band backed fiasco that features Nicki Minaj and terrible mixing. The rest of the tracks on the album are too weak and forgettable to even warrant mentioning.
The worst offense on Head Above Water is the uninspired and stale songwriting. After having spent years in recovery to treat her Lyme disease, Avril can only translate her life-changing experiences into boring clichés and unstable metaphors. This is especially disappointing because Avril has delivered extremely smart and well-written songs in the past. Furthermore, she arguably had more material to work with than ever before for this album.
Avril Lavigne needs to go back to the drawing board and figure out who she wants to be as an artist and what she has to offer. Head Above Water is inexplicably weak and yet another stain on what used to be one of the stronger discographies of her generation.
Key Tracks: “Head Above Water”