Avril Lavigne, ‘Head Above Water’ – Album Review

It’s hard to expect much from an Avril Lavigne album these days. The world now remembers her for the ‘Hello Kitty’ controversy. This combined with the lackluster music she released in 2013 defined her more than  the pop royalty she rightfully is. But now after a 6 year break, a divorce with Chad Kroeger and a long battle with lyme disease, Avril is back. And she means business with her rawest and most honest album yet, but one that is quite repetitive and uninspired.

She’s shed the punk girl, alt image. Now Avril is embracing what may be a true version of herself – a woman who is battle scarred from the trials of life. Even down to the album art, Lavigne is nude with only a guitar. This album is simply her and the music, though it’s more piano heavy than guitar, but lying nude with a grand piano doesn’t really have the same effect does it?

Avril Lavigne’s Head Above Water

Head Above Water, her sixth album, is her realest and rawest. Lavigne isn’t afraid to tell her story, to lay bare all she’s been through, the pain and the suffering that has truly put her through it over the years. The title track opens the album on a deeply sorrowful but hopeful note. It’s a strong message of her resilience through her life and in her artistry too. It sorta sets the scene for this new sound she’s trying out, one that harkens back to some of her earliest album tracks, rather than the overproduced mess of her self-titled album. It’s a shame that the first track is the best one on the album, as nothing shines quite like ‘Head Above Water’.

It’s a mature track opening a rather mature album, except for the bizarre Nicki Minaj collab. It seemed Lavigne was defiant in remaining that teenage alt girl, remember the cringey but catchy ‘Here’s To Never Growing Up’ in 2013? Thankfully those days are gone.

Not her best work, but far from the worst

Her newfound husky sound continues into 11 more tracks which are largely forgettable. ‘I Fell In Love With The Devil’, presumably an attempted diss track, falls flat and feels like a teenager could have penned it. The immaturity in her work has been something Avril Lavigne has battled with continuously. Understandable though, as she struck gold with her youthful sound in the early 00’s. It can’t be easy to leave that winning formula behind. But now it’s stale and with so many songs hitting the same note, it’s getting exhausting.

The first half of the album is enjoyable, it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s a real insight into the last 6 years of her life. It’s a new concept for her, and with a brand new sound, it’s intriguing to listen to. She’s more than the angsty pop girl of the early 00’s. However it all changes at ‘Dumb Blonde’

‘Dumb Blonde’

This Nicki Minaj collaboration is one nobody saw coming. Truthfully, it’s a fun song, it’s an angry, loud, pop banger with such a sense of bravada. It’s a nice contrast to the rest of the album. Though you can’t but help think it’s out of place when most of Head Above Water plays to the same note. Especially right in the middle of the album. From somber and real, to rap and angry, then back to the piano. It’s jarring, but does provide a pop of fun and a different sound. It feels like it would fit better on her 2013 self-titled release, however.

After this, the album delves into more enjoyable, but unremarkable tunes. There’s emotion and feelings, about what exactly, I couldn’t tell you. Lyrics like ‘He thinks I’m sexy in my pyjamas / The more I am a hot mess / The more he goes bananas’ are quirky and fun but just a little but ill fitting.

It’s not not a success, but it’s not a success either. It ends with ‘Warrior’, a fitting track to end this album on reclaiming her life and sound. She’s overcoming challenges facing her and she’s now on top with this new album and sound. It’s got some great instrumentals, and is probably one of the better songs from the album as a whole.

Where is Avril Lavigne going?

Overall, Avril Lavigne is heading in the right direction. She’s moving on from her original  aesthetic and sound. An aesthetic and sound that will forever be iconic, but was ready to be put to rest. Head Above Water is a different sound, one that isn’t fully there yet, but has so much potential.. You’ll have a good time with this album but won’t be finding yourself going back to it over and over. She’s come a long way from ‘SK8er Boi’ and in an industry that will throw you away at the slightest fault, it’s commendable that Lavigne has fought for her relevancy and spotlight. It’s a shame that this new found sound isn’t fully realised just yet.

Head Above Water is a lot better than her last few releases, but really doesn’t hit as high as it had the potential too.

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David Thomas on BloggerDavid Thomas on Twitter
Apart from working as a music journalist, David works in communications within the charity sector. He's a big fan of everything travel, coffee and dogs and a complete expert on everything Bastille and Lorde.

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