Avril Lavigne wasn’t so happy as a teenager: “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?” she was heard to shout, possibly at the Bed Head selection in Walgreens. Her post-fame second album, 2004’s Under My Skin, was almost a parody of follow-up disappointment: “Don’t Tell Me,” “He Wasn’t,” “Fall to Pieces,” “Freak Out,” “Slipped Away.” “My Happy Ending” only insofar as “so much for my happy ending.” But something clicked on her third album, 2007’s The Best Damn Thing, in which the striking redhead found her first gray hair, realized how joyless she was coming off, and dyed it blonde (and pink) to compensate. Her actual teen years somewhat wasted on not-depressing-but-rather-slow “pop” music with more acoustic guitars than necessary for songs that weren’t pretty, she now brought in not just the mall-punk she’d always been threatening, but also cheerleader chants, primary colors, and the blasé attitude of much younger girls who date boys that don’t understand “why a certain time of month I don’t wanna hold his hand.” If she missed the chance to celebrate her youth, she still had her vitality.
In 2011, both a redhead (Paramore’s Hayley Williams) and a blonde (the world’s Taylor Swift) are blowing up her spot, alongside a score of mall-cred Ke$has and Katys more self-consciously funny and randy than Lavigne ever was. Faced with competing for “pop” ambitions this “rock” wannabe never really had, she instead strides toward brunette-dom on the new, stalwartly unfun Goodbye Lullaby, which—if you couldn’t tell from the piano on the cover—means Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch. This is the death of Auto-Tune, moment of silence.
Except, you know, for the single. Hooked by an impressive array of syllables in one perfectly Pro Tooled “whoa,” the effervescent “What the Hell” would be worrisome (hard to delight in her “I just want to be a little crazy” sex spree in the face of “You’re on your knees/Begging please/Stay with me”) if the lazy “baby, baby” tacked on to make the chorus rhyme didn’t give the impression that she probably hates it. But it’s by and large the most enjoyable thing on here, and you can take her still-blonde/pink mane in the video as a sign that it’s meant as an awkward parting gift for Best Damn Thing fans. “Smile” is the only other Lullaby tune where she fully savors her role as the estranged divorcee godmother of the Ke$haverse, and it over-whomps like it’s doped up on 250 cc’s of Federline: “You know that I’m a crazy bitch/I do what I want when I feel like it/All I wanna do is lose control/But you don’t really a give a shit/You go with, you go with, you go with it/Because you’re fucking crazy rock and roll.” And that’s before the verse where she’s slipped a roofie . . . and gets a new tattoo. Taylor Swift might parody all that really hilariously the next time she hosts SNL.
The rest is really sad. “Black Star” was written as a TV theme to promote her fragrance of the same name, and not only does it swipe the Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” for “Coldplay-inspired” strings and piano, she didn’t bother expanding it beyond a TV-ready 1:34. “Everybody Hurts” and “Wish You Were Here” aren’t covers. “4 Real” (she can’t help herself, it’s the way she feels) and “Remember When” (she cried to you a thousand times) wouldn’t cut it in a yearbook. Only “I Love You” even hints at Swift’s insight—Lavigne likes the way you misbehave wasted, “and how you keep your cool when I’m complicated.” In fact, complaining about complexity might’ve been her death knell in the first place.