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Review: Avril Lavigne’s ‘Love Sux’ and the pop-punk problem

Review: Avril Lavigne’s ‘Love Sux’ and the pop-punk problem

What does it mean to say that the pop-punk princess has returned?

By CORALIE LOON — [email protected]

It’s the year 2002: Mount Nyiragongo Volcano erupts, a new type of black hole is discovered and — clearly most important of all — Avril Lavigne’s debut single “Complicated” hits the streets along with its accompanying album, “Let Go” (2002).

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about Lavigne that makes her so iconic — besides being a central emblem of pop-punk music in the early 2000s, her presence in the public spotlight led to her becoming a fashion icon for grunge and skater-girl styles. Whether or not any of these facts interest you, you have still likely bobbed your head to a radio broadcast of “Complicated,” and for many of us, her early songs remain poignant and nostalgic touchstones of musical eras within our lives.

Her latest album “Love Sux” (2022) was released on Jan. 25 of this year, serving as a reminder of the pop-punk icon of my generation’s early years. Many have viewed her newest album as a return to her roots. But what does it mean for the pop-punk princess to be back?

In my opinion, what makes Lavigne iconic was always her ability to explore different dimensions of music. Even the label “pop-punk” can be limiting; Lavigne herself has rejected the term “punk” to describe her music. “You can’t label people, give them a word and say ‘this is what you are,’” she said in a MIX iT interview.

 Lavigne’s older work — consisting of the period between “Let Go” and “Under My Skin” (2004) — combined electric guitar and punk elements with the more easy-going vocals and acoustics of early 2000s pop. Then came “The Best Damn Thing” in 2007, which paired an exaggeration of sassy lyrics in songs like “Girlfriend” and “The Best Damn Thing” with the album cover, characterized by a pink and black palette.

This clash between “bubblegum pop” and more traditional pop-punk eventually sided more with the pop side in her newer albums,particularly “Goodbye Lullaby” (2011) and “Head Above Water” (2019). The sappy and often slow pop, griddled with piano and acoustic guitar, led some to retract the title of “pop-punk princess,” such as a Spinditty article that claimed “she’s completely changed her sound.” The contrast between this era of Lavigne and the edgy pizzazz of “Love Sux” was enough to warrant The Guardian’s vibe check of her newest album: “Party like it’s 2002.”

But is there a cost to devaluing her newest work to a simple “throwback” whose value lies only in its subjective nostalgia? Is “Love Sux” really just a modern version of “Let Go”?

I would argue that this mentality strives to separate the artist from the artwork, or else to suggest that Lavigne has somehow returned to her old self or, even more problematically, to her “true self,” suggesting that a prominent era of her existence as an artist was somehow fraudulent.

To dismiss one era of Lavigne in favor of another compromises the idea of an artist’s journey. In an article by Nancy Hillis, she suggests that artists “move through developmental cycles much like the stages of human development.” In a continuous stage of evolution, “Love Sux” is nothing like a new version of “Let Go,” because Lavigne is fundamentally a different person than she was in 2002.

More than a throwback to a specific era, “Love Sux” is a culmination of everything Lavigne has explored between then and now. The snappy lyrics of “Bite Me” are reminiscent of “Girlfriend”-era songs, while the fast-paced electric guitar in “Bois Lie” takes me back to heavily punk-inspired “Sk8er Boi.” Even “Avalanche” and “Dare to Love Me” seem to give a shoutout to her more mainstream pop moments in “Head Above Water” (although with a good extra dose of electric guitar).

All in all, “Love Sux” is a bold collection of songs that takes elements of Lavigne’s older music to new (but also nostalgic) heights, once again showing us that she has not forgotten her artistic journey. Reliant on many moments of her past, “Love Sux” is both a time capsule of musical growth and an example of a new moment in Avril Lavigne’s career.

So, party like it’s 2022!

Written by: Coralie Loon — [email protected]