Let’s look at Avril’s career to date. Her debut, Let Go was peppy pop punk hit, but her more serious follow-up, Under My Skin was decently received, and then hyper mall-punk The Best Damn Thing was probably her biggest success to date. The long and short? She does better when she goes for the pop jugular.
This is one of the things that her newest album, Goodbye Lullaby makes very apparent. Lead off single “What the Hell” is the most traditional Avril moment: cheeky, bratty, and surprisingly catchy. But even that song feels watered down compared to its predecessors”Sk8ter Boi” and “Girlfriend”; it feels too much like the song is trying to have fun.
Goodbye Lullaby doesn’t hit much on the fun. Of course, this is understandable as most of the material is in reaction to/about Avril’s recent divorce with Sum 41 frontman and Goodbye Lullaby producer Deryck Whibley (I cannot imagine this not leading to some awkward studio moments), and it shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with a break-up album; it did wonders for Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, and more recently, Beck.
Goodbye Lullaby trades in Avril’s usual punk rawking for an acoustic and piano based approach to songwriting. It’s the standard “mature” sound, but…well, Avril’s voice doesn’t sound very mature. Even as she’s gotten older, she still sounds like a nasally 19 year old trying too hard, a problem I call Tom DeLonge Syndrome. There’s also a lot of Alanis Morissette on Goodbye Lullaby, “Push” in particular sounds like a send-up to the Jagged Little Pill star.
Much like her voice, Avril’s also stunted lyrically. Not to make light of personal woes, but there are only so many ways to show regret, sadness, and acceptance. The limiting factor here isn’t entirely the range of emotions, but the lack of depth to each one. The profanity also seems shoved in; the “Damn, damn, damn” chorus in “Wish You Were Here” is at least kind of acceptable thanks to the repetitive nature of the song, but “Smile” as a whole feels uncomfortably shoehorned.
Speaking of which, I read here and there that there were some creative disputes between Avril and her label while Goodbye Lullaby was in production. A look at the songwriting credits for the album implies a compromise; 4 songs with Max Martin and Shellback (big time producers), 3 songs with lead guitarist Evan Taubenfeld, and 6 standalone Avril credits.
Interestingly enough, though, success and failure are evenly spread. The Lavinge/Martin/Shellback team created “I Love You” and “What the Hell”, but are also responsible for the contrived album low-point “Smile”. Taubenfeld and Lavinge collaborated on the passable “Everybody Hurts”, but their other two enterprises, “Push” and “Not Enough” feel like filler. Lavinge for her part does alright with “Remember When” and the truly poignant closer “Goodbye”, but her other efforts are bland retreads (although it’s good to see that she’s trying).
Perhaps a more unified team effort would have helped Goodbye Lullaby, but as-is, this is a very so-so record. To give credit where credit is due, the production is very on-target, and Goodbye Lullaby isn’t all bad news. “What The Hell” is enjoyable radio fluff, “I Love You” is single-worthy, and “Goodbye” manages to achieve what Avril tried to do with 3 or 4 other songs. Not that the other songs are even that bad, they’re just incredibly cliche and boring. It’s the sound of someone trying to grasp onto something they don’t quite understand, and instead of using their own way of saying things, are stuck with the same old same old. Two and a half stars.
tl;dr: Despite a few flashes, Goodbye Lullaby never truly takes off. 2.5/5