Take a relatively clean-cut pop star like Avril Lavigne, have her snarl enough cuss words to snag a Parental Advisory on her latest album, maybe apply some more hair dye and eyeliner, and people will automatically start talking about her updated image, or something like that. Lavigne is, of course, almost certainly aware of this principle. Presumably it’s the driving force behind “The Best Damn Thing,” a record on which Lavigne can be found (in one of her truly more modest moments, and without a trace of irony) declaring, “I’m the motherf***ing princess.”
But “The Best Damn Thing” not only fails to be an update, it’s actually a clear regression from the teenage angst-pop Lavigne was putting out back around the turn of the century. The singer of “Sk8er Boi” was 17 years old when her debut “Let Go” hit the charts in 2002, but at 22 Lavigne now sounds far more narcissistic and juvenile than ever before. When one gets rid of the many expletives cynically sprinkled throughout “The Best Damn Thing,” the album resembles little more than the incoherent diary of a petulant little girl. Heck, it sounds that way even with the expletives.
Indeed, the 12 punkish-poppish songs featured on Lavigne’s latest effort represent the worst possible kind of emotional exhibitionism — the kind that starts by revealing things the listener can’t be remotely interested in, and then veers straightaway into territory that elicits the audience’s active disgust. Why the opening lines of “Runaway” exist at all — “Woke up on the wrong side of life today/ Crashed the car and I’m gonna be really late/ My phone doesn’t work ’cause it’s out of range” — is about the only mystery Lavigne sees fit to keep to herself.
Everything else is left in plain view, and the results sure aren’t pretty. In one instant Lavigne is bragging — yes, bragging — about being a “drama queen,” and in the next she’s announcing, “I wear the pants!” in a masculine, faux-Gwen Stefani chant that’s almost guaranteed to turn off every guy in the room.
Usually the problem one encounters with pop albums is that the songs are so well-written that it’s fairly obvious the job was outsourced to a crack team of studio wizards. The opposite scenario manifests itself on “The Best Damn Thing”: The songwriting is so utterly lazy it couldn’t possibly have been written by anyone but Lavigne. With lines like “I’m sick of that s**t, don’t deny/ You’re a waste of time/ I’m sick of that s**t, don’t ask why,” the listener at least believes Lavigne when she sings later on, “I don’t have to try.”
To give Lavigne her due, there are fleeting moments on “The Best Damn Thing” when her confessions manage to advance past the embryonic stage and resemble full-fledged human emotions. Two tracks, “When You’re Gone” and “Innocence,” contain thoughtful piano riffs and lyrics, but they’re all but wasted in the bitter maelstrom that surrounds them. For one thing, it’s hard to listen to Lavigne sing about innocence when she’s engaged in such a transparent effort to cash in on the tasteless dredges of emo-pop. Somebody ought to remind her that when someone pays for her albums, she’s at least expected to provide something of value in return.