Avril Lavigne
Under My Skin
Arista
2004
C+



neo-feminist (the kind where everything’s quite complicated, frustrating any attempt to truly unpack exactly what’s going on), gleefully ignorant of music history (the kind where your CD collection can be counted on your hands and feet before your first record is released) and Canadian (the kind where complicated rhymes easily with frustrated), Avril Lavigne found herself in the summer of 2002 with a debut album, Let Go, that was, to put it mildly, an unlikely hit. With the now-famous backing of former Arista president LA Reid to do nearly anything she wanted to do with her career on the strength of her powerful voice, Avril was lucky enough to release an album at a time when pop music was in a state of flux. As teen pop was stumbling in the homestretch, Lavigne and a host of other confessional female singers took the reins for a short time. And now, two years later, Avril has managed to keep her face and name in the mainstream long enough to have a hyped and marketed second album. Not bad for a 17 year old.

But now Avril’s 19 and a bit wiser about her feminism (she wants you to hold the door open for her, but not without the knowledge she can kick your ass should she choose to) and music history (one expects that even if the history lesson didn’t rub off that she at least listened to the records her bandmates reportedly attempted to educate her with). She even enlisted fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk to help her co-write the 12 tracks found on Under My Skin. But is Kreviazuk the Linda Perry to Avril’s Pink? The short (and uncomplicated) answer is a resounding Yes.

Under My Skin is a far more balanced album than Let Go, allowing Avril to stretch out a bit more and not suffer the troughs that typified any song that happened to follow a Matrix penned track. Instead, Under My Skin, aside from the you’re-not-the-boss-of-me-feminist tract “Don’t Tell Me”, sounds like an album produced with the same hand (a hearty compliment indeed to the three producers responsible for the work here). But even that sounds somewhat dialed down from the overblown, yet admittedly brilliant, “Sk8er Boi”. In fact, there are few songs that could be easily identified as the next single, which may help to make this album flop in comparison to its predecessor.

But in a perfect world it won’t, because this is a far stronger statement. The album leads off with “Take Me Away”, which features a continual bed of synthesizers underneath the driving punk-pop sheen. It’s almost an unsettling addition to Lavigne’s palette, but ends up helping to prop up the song and adds a thick layer to make the verses and chorus burst forth even stronger. The song hits its stride in its dream-pop bridge, utilizing the synthesizers underneath to heavenly effect. Following it up is “Together” which also makes use of piano and synthesizer to add emotional weight. Unlike many nu-metal groups, however, it’s rarely a knowing addition and avoids the cloying tag.

Lyrically, Lavigne is as ambiguous or as contradictory (depending on your stance) as ever. Wavering between acting like a child (“He Wasn’t”), acting her age (“Don’t Tell Me”) and acting like a woman (“How Does It Feel”), Lavigne appears as the poster-child for a neo-feminist agenda. Choosing whichever mask she wants in any situation, it’s the type of assertiveness that could be mistaken for wanting her cake and eating it too. On Under My Skin it comes off more like a confusion born of immaturity. She is nineteen, after all.

Which gives her only one more year before she has to give up the teenage poetry of lyrical nadir “He Wasn’t” (sample lyric: “This is when I start to bite my nails / And clean my room when all else fails”). Rimbaud she ain’t, but then again she never claimed to be a symbolist, and that's at least part of the reason for her massive popularity.

But will it (her popularity, not her ignorance of symbolism) last? If closer “Slipped Away” comes anywhere near the ubiquity of “I’m With You”, it would seem quite possible. If, however, the marketing department botches this one up, they no one have to blame but themselves. Avril has more than done her part of the job.



Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2004-05-21
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