Review: Avril Lavigne’s Head Above Water sinks expectations

On her first album in five years, Canada's former pop-punk princess has become her own worst nightmare – boring

Rating: NN

In 2002, I bought my first album: Avril Lavigne’s Let Go. It was a love affair that left me with heavy-handed eyeliner, side bangs, the works. Even to this day my heart races when I hear a skateboard roll by. So yes, I had naive hopes for her comeback. 

She’s been on hiatus since 2014, battling Lyme disease. She also split with her husband, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. That personal strife might call for an album that mixes her signature angst with mature empowerment anthems. With much remorse, I have to say our pop punk princess plays it painfully safe. She’s become her own worst nightmare – boring. 

The album opens with the title track – a war song, a big middle finger to the disease that left her bedridden for two years. Quickly strummed chords and booming drums emphasize her will to live during a time where she thought she was dying. The vaguely religious power ballad even hit the Christian charts.

The album takes a turn toward the middle. The curveball single Dumb Blonde feels jarring and unnecessary – a poor reenactment of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl 15 years later. Lavigne’s once rebellious, society-questioning voice is smothered by a desire for relevance. Then Nicki Minaj emerges out of nowhere with strange purrs. 

Goddess enticed me at first. “Dark times, hard times,” she sings over a soft acoustic strum. “I didn’t know who I was for a minute.” Is this where post-Chavril Lavigne was going to get real about her experiences with Lyme disease? Nope, instead the emotional tune becomes a love song, muddled with cringe-inducing lyrics. “He thinks I’m sexy in my pajamas,” she sings, straining for a rhyme. “The more I am a hot mess / the more he goes bananas.” What happened to the girl who didn’t need a man, who said “see you later, boy” to self-worth determined by relationship status?

On the sombre It Was In Me, the old Avril thankfully cuts in. After slow piano and a trickle of harmonies, she yells “everyone’s got an opinion, but I don’t care.” Yes, finally, we hear a tinge of our sk8er girl. 

The album concludes with Warrior, an underwhelming tale of strength that lacks depth. Meant to sound triumphant, when Lavigne sings “I’m a warrior” it doesn’t even sound like she believes herself. 

Maybe 2000s Avril nostalgia is clouding my judgment, but she deserves to be anything but ordinary – and that’s what this album is. 

Top track: It Was In Me

@nowtoronto | @mariannalozo

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