It’s been four years since Avril Lavigne’s last album, “The Best Damn Thing,” which unleashed the man-stealing anthem “Girlfriend,” in the process dyeing the airwaves a sassy hot pink whenever those schoolyard taunts kicked in. On her new outing, “Goodbye Lullaby,” the Canadian punk princess files down her fangs a little bit, which makes her bratty side easier to swallow but her sweet side all the more saccharine.
Her single “What the Hell,” with its sticky stomp somewhere between Warped Tour and a ’50s roller rink, is probably one of her most confident and fresh songs. Cute, still tuff (not tough, mind you) but not as mean-spirited as “Girlfriend,” Lavigne shows that at the advanced age of 26 she can keep up with Katy Perry’s antics but with some extra gravitas.
After all, Lavigne writes more of her own music, cooking up this particular track with Swedish producer Max Martin and Pink collaborator Shellback. And even though her voice may reach an uncomfortable register reminiscent of a mechanical hamster from time to time on her fourth studio effort, there’s evidence of her genuinely trying to push herself and cover new vocal ground.
The problems arise on “Goodbye Lullaby” when Lavigne compartmentalizes her softer side, to the point where it eclipses her finger-jabbing cheekiness. If one were to judge by the album cover alone, Lavigne — in gossamer dress, sitting atop a flower-strewn piano — is the new Diana Krall, a confusing message further reinforced by a too-long string of sappy songs dragging down the album’s back end.
Lavigne is at her best when she can balance the sugar and the spice. On “Smile,” one of the tracks that she wrote herself, Lavigne celebrates black-out nights, possibly with her ex-husband Deryck Whibley of Sum 41, the kind that result in a new tattoo. She proudly calls herself crazy and out of control, before leading into a chorus that’s all gushy about love. It’s the little girl fantasizing in the quiet moments after a grown woman’s excesses. And you better not have a problem with her wanting it both ways.
— Margaret Wappler
Two and a half stars