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July 16, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Avril Lavigne comes back with empowering record

Head Above Water

BMG

Avril Lavigne’s voice finally broke through the silence she has left her fans in for years with her new album, “Head Above Water,” released Feb. 15. Almost five years after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, Lavigne has her head above water and is getting back into the music industry.

After contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite, Lavigne was in life-threatening condition. She talked in multiple interviews and on her social media pages about being bedridden for months, thinking she would never sing again. Lyme disease can have neurological symptoms and cause fatigue in those who contract it.  She said in interviews that music helped her through her worst moments, resulting in the first two songs she wrote for the album, “Head Above Water” and “Warrior.” She came back onto the stage for the first time in years with major performances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Good Morning America.”

Her comeback single, “Head Above Water,” opens the album with a commanding and spiritual feeling. The song, written from her sickbed during what Lavigne calls the scariest moment of her life, has very religious tones, with lyrics like “God, keep my head above water” and “I’ll meet you there, at the altar.” The pop-punk star even had this song featured on the Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart, peaking at number two.

“Head Above Water” is an empowering song, with strong vocals from Lavigne and beautifully played piano accompaniment. The entire song brings the audience through Lavigne’s emotional battle with Lyme disease.

“Birdie” and “I fell in Love with the Devil” are both ballads of constricting love, perhaps referencing to her second ex-husband Chad Kroeger. These songs feature her vocal range, as she shifts from deep and strong to light and airy vocals throughout the course of each song. The songs start off the album with an empowering tone — one of a singer who went through a divorce and battled chronic illness at the same time.

“Tell Me It’s Over” sticks to the theme of love and fading relationships. Lavigne has come a long way from the angsty, teen albums of her past with mature and meaningful lyrics. This song, the second single on her album, also has a jazzy and smooth feel to it. By the end of the song, she has worked out a strong anthem for anyone who has been in a dying relationship.

Looking back on Lavigne’s past music, one would never have expected her to pair up with Nicki Minaj. The pairing is almost as unexpected as the upbeat song “Dumb Blonde” in the middle of her album. Although she comes through with very strong, feminine lyrics as a clap-back to any condescending critics in her life, the spunky song does not mesh well with the rest of the album. It is an odd mix between the old, angsty, pop-punk Lavigne and the new, mature, adult Lavigne.

“It Was In Me” matches well with the composition of the album but does not mesh well with “Dumb Blonde.” The lyrics fall in line with the overall message of the album to fight through life’s battles. This song continues with some of the religious undertones of “Head Above Water” with lyrics like “All I needed was a little faith in my life.”

“Souvenir” changes the direction of the album from one of lost love and difficult battles to one of hopeful, new love. It is consistent with the steady, rhythmic beat of the album but breaks up the song with a more electronic sound.

“Crush” and “Goddess” flow well in the second half of the album, as the tracks make it clear the album has shifted into focusing on a lovestruck Lavigne. Her vocals in these songs have a delicate sound, floating atop the instrumental portions of the songs. These songs suit the overall tone of the album with fewer instrumentals, focusing on her vocal strength.

Arguably, one of the best songs on the record is “Bigger Wow,” a snappy and catchy song. While still focusing on new love, Lavigne brings a fresh track to the album with crescendoing instrumentals and lyrics.

“Warrior” is the perfect closer for the album. The two songs that were written from her bedridden state bookend the album. The lyrics in this song dig a lot deeper than some of the surface-level lyrics of her album. The instrumentation is lighter in this song to feature the range in her vocals. The isolated vocals show off not only the strength of her voice but the strength of her spirit.“Head Above Water” demonstrates Lavigne’s personal growth since her 2013 self-titled album, which had the very juvenile and controversial song “Hello Kitty” on it. She has especially grown since her other previous albums, like “The Best Damn Thing,” that featured more of the pop-punk variety and teenage angst. Each song in this newest album works well to isolate her voice in ways that accentuates her vocal strength and her lyrical talent. “Head Above Water” was well worth the wait for Lavigne fans.

Ashley Stalnecker can be reached at astalnecker@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @Ashley_Stal