Under My Skin Album reviews.
Release Date: 06.04.02
Record label: arista
Just Freak Out, Let It Go
by: matt cibula
This one will surprise you, maybe, if you haven't been paying attention. Avril took a lot of heat for her first album, some of it based on jealousy and some of it based on her working extensively with the pop collective The Matrix, which led to some people deciding that Avril was just another pop puppet. (Like that really matters, anyway - so what even if she was? The world needs pop, darn it, just like it needs really really earnest emo bands or crunksters telling us how to dance.)
So if you don't know that Avril co-writes ALL the songs on this album, you'll be shocked to hear it, especially when it means that a lot of them are mid-tempo poppish rock instead of her last model of fastish-tempo punkish pop. Well, and there's a couple of big-hair power ballads here too. And some stuff that sludges along dangerously using tricks learned from Swedish metal bands. I'm serious here.
Some of this new stuff is pretty shocking. "Forgotten" does, in fact, honestly sound like Swedish techno/metal band the Gathering, except fronted by a teen-pop princess instead of an operatic diva. "Freak Out" uses stuttering synths and a twin guitar figure that kind of sounds like Marshall Tucker Band and kind of also sounds like Loverboy. And "He Wasn't" is kind of like "Sk8ter Boi" except harder and tougher and cooler. (Not out there on the edge, mind you - she's not a risk-taker.)
But, ultimately, it's the same: a young white Canadian singer/songwriter showing us her world. Avril Lavigne has certain ideas about things, and she's gonna give them to us. One of those ideas is that the intense pressure put on girls to "put out" is no different from date rape; while I agree with this, mostly, I'm not sure if I could have put it as well as Lavigne does on the first single, "Don't Tell Me." Here, she takes a guy to task in full-on soft-to-loud blasty-crunchy style. The dude, in spite of previous conversations about this, has developed certain expectations about the evening, and our heroine is here to set him straight: "Don't think that your charm / And the fact that your arm / Is around my neck / Will get you in my pants." This is pretty tough, especially when she goes on to tell the dude straight up that she is going to kick his ass to make him never forget. I like this song, despite its slowness and general anti-sex message, because it's going to inspire girls to stand up for themselves if they don't want to give it up, and that's fine. (I just wish she didn't have to put down "that other girl" in order to make her point, but one cannot have everything.) Plus, she sings pretty much like the early Sinéad O'Connor at this point, thrillingly weird keening notes, an inner aggression that bursts out sometimes and messes your whole head up.
She's not using the Matrix holding company this time, but she's chosen pretty well on her collaborators. Fellow Canadienne Chantal Kreviazuk co-writes and co-sings and plays a mean piano arpeggio on "Together"; Butch Walker does a great job dropping out everything on the verses of "My Happy Ending" except the basic underpinning of the song, and then just exploding into the chorus: "You were everything, everything that I wanted / We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it". But it's clear that Lavigne is listening to a lot of good music (Liz Phair, Heart, Michelle Branch) and some just okay ones (Linkin Park seems to be a big one here, but thankfully she doesn't rap), that she's trying to write the best songs that she can, and is singing her brave little heart out..
Does that mean this is a truly great disc? Well, no, it's kinda hit and miss, especially on those slow-dance lighter-waving numbers like "Slipped Away." But the songs have some heft to them, some weight, something that might indicate longer-term ambitions for her. I hope she takes some more chances next time, personally, but who cares what the hell I think about the next record? This is one is really pretty good.
And anyway, for right now, the most important thing is this: do the kids like it? My eight-year-old daughter says "Yes." So there's that answer. And adults, if they aren't anti-pop snobs or Dylan/Beatles/Boring Stones fanatics, will like it too.
03-Jun-2004 9:30 AM