Top positive review
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Simple, Solemn, and Wonderful
on March 10, 2011
Avril Lavigne built a strong fanbase and then caught herself in something of a conundrum: her first album was a pop/rock fusion with catchy radio tunes such as "Sk8er Boi" and "Complicated" mixed in with darker fare like "Unwanted" and "I'm with You"; her second album was a raw, darker rock sound with excellent hooks and still one or two pop sounds ("He Wasn't", anyone?). Then, something changed -- literally, everything. "The Best Damn Thing" was Lavigne's third album and saw her with blonde hair streaked with pink, and every song on the album drenched in goopy bubblegum pop. With this move, Lavigne's fanbase seemed to split itself in two: those who were perfectly fine with the 'new Avril' and those who desperately wanted to see her 'return to herself.'
"Goodbye Lullaby", the oft-delayed, much-anticipated fourth album from the challenging singer-songwriter, is both a rich return to roots, a powerful maturation of what we've already seen, and also a simple look at life.
There's been some genuine criticism of "Lullaby" from critics who decry the simplicity of the songs, but one of the complete charms of the album is that it genuinely feels like Lavigne invited listeners into her living room while she sat at her piano or strummed her guitar. There's no grand procession of chords because Lavigne cannily realised, she didn't need them. "Lullaby" is not just a song detailing her failed marriage, it's a firm introspection on how far she's come from the teenage mall-punk she started out as. The singer stated herself that most of the songs were written in her bed or whatever hotel room she was staying in, and it truly, truly shows.
But there's still so much of the Avril that we all have come to know and love over the years as well. "What the Hell", written with Max Martin, could have jumped right off of "The Best Damn Thing", while the Alanis-like kiss-off "Smile" reaches back to the feel of "Under My Skin", and for those thirsting for the innocence of "Let Go" tracks such as "Things I'll Never Say" is echoed in "Darlin'", a song written by Lavigne when she was still fifteen years old. Opening up with the oddly eerie piano tinkle "Black Star" written for Lavigne's new fragrance line before moving into the rest of the album, "Goodbye Lullaby" has proven itself to be perhaps Lavigne's best album yet.
Intimate, beautiful, and above all simple, "Lullaby" lets go of all of the old tricks while still echoing everything that made Lavigne likable in the first place. Sad and introspective yet never whiny, gorgeous tracks like "Wish You Were Here" and "4 Real" are longing ballads, while "Not Enough" is perhaps one of the best musings of the album as Lavigne comes to grips with the fact that some relationships fail, despite love still being there, through no real fault of the participants. Her ex-husband Derrick Whibly is a member of Sum 41 and his presence was overpowering in the music of "The Best Damn Thing"; on "Lullaby" he is a gentle guider and also a phantom hovering over the most longing ballads while still allowing Lavigne to poke a bit of fun with "Smile" and "What the Hell".
"Goodbye" is the true lullaby of the album and the sweeping piano ballad that provided the album's name, bringing everything to a close as Lavigne stretches her vocals beyond what we've really heard before. An extremely good decision was to provide a bonus track of sorts and close the album with the power ballad "Alice" that Lavigne wrote for the 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland". The song puts Lavigne in the point-of-view of Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole to Wonderland and making the decision to control her own fate and take charge of her life. It's a powerful song and the extended version with a whole new verse provides an uplifting, beautiful end to the album as she assures the world that she is, indeed, alright.
"Goodbye Lullaby" is far from a perfect album - the chords aren't too terribly original and the lyrics aren't going to be winning any awards for poetry anytime soon. But the simplicity of the album is its true strength, as Lavigne wrote every song herself (or at least had a heavy hand in them). She invited her listeners in on the most intimate record she's yet produced, and while critics may not have been impressed it was everything that her fans have been waiting for, perhaps joining the fans of the split-personality-Avrils together again and proving that this is one artist with true staying power. If anything, "Goodbye Lullaby" is a powerful break-up album with quite a few standouts, and a marvellous entry into Lavigne's discography.
I eagerly await her fifth album and I, for one, feel justly rewarded in waiting for the release of "Goodbye Lullaby" after skipping out on "The Best Damn Thing".
Five out of five stars.