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Album Review

I grew up listening to pop-punk singer Avril Lavigne. Though I wasn’t allowed to listen to all of her music, her most popular songs still found their way to my ears. And if you put on an early 2000s playlist, chances are I could still recite many of her lyrics.

But it’s been a long time since I—or anyone else, for that matter—have heard much from Avril. More than five years.

Despite tabloid rumors that floated around for a while, the truth is that Avril has been recovering from a serious and life-threatening case of Lyme disease. A battle she wasn’t sure she wanted to share with the public, but one that has encouraged her to keep fighting both for her life and her music.

Avril's sixth studio album, Head Above Water, chronicles her journey through those tumultuous times, featuring 12 tracks that largely veer from Avril's signature pop-punk persona as she discusses topics such as dysfunctional relationships, sex, love, hardships and recovery.

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Avril’s battle with Lyme disease, divorce and other difficulties can be clearly heard on “Warrior,” “It Was in Me” and “Head Above Water.”

The first of those songs voices a determined battle cry as Avril declares that she is stronger than anything that may come against her: “I fight for my life like a soldier/All through the night/And I won’t give up, I will survive.” Avril cries out to God in “Head Above Water” (“God, keep my head above water/Don’t let me drown, it gets harder/I’ll meet you there at the altar”).

And in “It Was in Me,” she realizes that real meaning in life doesn't come from worldly experiences ("I’ve been to all the parties, and it wasn’t there"), materialism ("I drove a Maserati, no fulfillment there"), adventure ("I searched up the mountain tops, it wasn't there") or even following her own desires ("I followed where my heart leads, it wasn’t there"). Instead, she says that contentment came from within: "It was in me, all along, it was in me," a realization that seems to have come from both believing in God and believing in herself: "All I needed was a little faith in my life/All I needed was a little trust in myself/All I needed was to find the truth in my heart."

Avril tries to break free from a toxic relationship in “Tell Me It’s Over,” “I Fell in Love With the Devil” and “Birdie." In the latter, she tells an emotionally abusive guy: “I ain’t your prisoner/You can’t lock me up no more/I’ll show you what I’m worth/Take back what I deserve.” And in "Devil," she pleads, "Someone send me an angel/… Please, save me from this hell.”

In “Love Me Insane,” “Bigger Wow,” “Goddess,” “Crush” and “Souvenir,” Avril celebrates a new love who has helped her to heal emotionally. In the first of those songs, she sings, “You pick up all of the pieces and put 'em back again/Your stitches on my heart are/All by hand, yeah/I know a good thing when I see one, yeah.”

Avril makes it clear that she’s not naive, nor should she be underestimated in “Dumb Blonde” (featuring a surprisingly tame guest appearance by Nicki Minaj).

Objectionable Content

Avril describes a dysfunctional relationship, one that is both sensual and emotionally damaging, in songs such as “Tell Me It’s Over,” “Birdie” and “I Fell in Love With the Devil.” The former details her struggle to relinquish a harmful relationship (“Oh, you taste so bittersweet/ … I should let this go”)

On the other hand, she also sings about a new relationship that brings her joy—but she doesn’t spare intimate details on “Love Me Insane,” “Bigger Wow,” “Goddess,” “Crush” and “Souvenir.” On the first of those songs, she describes some of what happens behind closed doors (“Taking all of my clothes off/And jumping in, yeah”). In “Goddess,” she shares what her new lover thinks of her: “He thinks I’m sexy in my pajamas/The more I’m a hot mess/The more he goes bananas/… Hard to keep it modest/Thinks my body’s flawless."

God’s name is misused once. Other occasional profanities include “d--n,” “d--mit,” “h---” and the f-word stand-in “freaking.” Wine is briefly mentioned in one track.

Summary Advisory

Avril’s comeback from Lyme disease is a big accomplishment. Not just because she’s been silent for so long, but because she’s also unafraid to change up her signature sound as she strives to reestablish her place in the pop music world.

In an interview with The Express Tribune, Avril said that although her battle with Lyme disease threatened to leave her incapacitated, she’s taken all of her pain and turned “that fight into music I’m really proud of.” And that music has both shining and shadowy moments, lyrically speaking.

There are moments in which Avril reaches out to God, declares her desire to overcome obstacles, heals from deep wounds and finds new love. But this former pop-punk princess still dishes a bit of profanity here and there, sits apparently naked (shielded only by a guitar on the album cover), indulges dysfunctional relationships and gushes about time in bed with a new lover.

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February 15, 2019

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Kristin Smith

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