CD Review of The Best Damn Thing by Avril Lavigne

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The Best Damn Thing
starstarstarno starno star Label: RCA
Released: 2007
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Avril, Avril, Avril…why must you tease us so? Just when we think you might actually have an ounce of punk cred, you go and let us down again.

Actually, we’re just kidding. Avril Lavigne hasn’t had any chance at scoring punk cred since 2002, when she made that incredibly stupid comment in Entertainment Weekly that she’ll never live down. (“People are like, 'Well, she doesn't know the Sex Pistols.' Why would I know that stuff? Look how young I am. That stuff's old, right?”) Still, at least she’s been pretty consistent about putting together some damned catchy pop-rock songs over the past few years. With The Best Damn Thing, however, she’s decided that she wants to go in a slightly different direction…and, unfortunately, she can’t seem to make up her mind as to which direction that should be. The result is a rather schizophrenic record that utilizes four different producers (Butch Walker, Dr. Luke, Rob Cavallo, and hubby Deryck Whibley) and four different mixers (Whibley, Serban Ghenea, Chris Lord-Alge, and, on a different track, his brother, Tom Lord-Alge) during the course of its 12 songs.

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard the ear worm that is the album’s first single, “Girlfriend,” which takes a real chance at copyright infringement due to its similarity to the Rubinoos’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” That’s the work of the aforementioned Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), who not only produced the track but co-wrote it with Lavigne; he does the same for the two songs that follow, “I Can Do Better” and “Runaway,” though the latter was additionally co-written by Kara Dioguardi, a.k.a. Dave Stewart’s better half in Platinum Weird. They’re a solid series of pop-rock tracks – no real surprise, given that Dr. Luke was also responsible for Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes” – and they find Lavigne staying pretty close to her established sound.

It’s with song #4 – the title track – where things first start to get a little wonky, which is actually a little ironic; after all, you’d think the beginning of the Butch Walker material would be where things would start to soar. Then again, you’d also think it’d be easier to release your inner Butch Walker when you’ve got the actual Butch Walker behind the board, but no such luck. Instead, Lavigne seems like she’s trying to bring a little Gwen Stefani style to the table. It’s a rather laughable attempt, unfortunately; Lavigne can’t pull off lines like, “I hate it when a guy doesn’t get the tab / And I have to pull my money out, and that looks bad.” In fact, of the three tracks, the only one where Lavigne uses Walker to get her punk-pop on is “Everything Back but You.” (The other Walker track, “When You’re Gone,” is a power piano ballad.)

The rest of the album bounces back and forth between these various styles. “Hot” isn’t a Walker song – it was co-written by Lavigne with regular collaborator Evan Taubenfeld – but it’s propellant enough that it feels like one. There’s more of the punk-pop stuff to go with it, along with two further piano ballads (“Innocence” and “Keep Holding On”), plus yet another song which attempts to go for that born-for-a-cheerleading-routine style before quickly and mercifully returning to the usual power pop sounds (“I Don’t Have to Try”). Interestingly, Lavigne opted not to do any further writing with Chantal Kreviazuk; given how fluorescent and day-glo the material on The Best Damn Thing is, maybe it’s because she felt like Kreviazuk was bumming her out, but it also means that Lavigne seems more immature than ever.

Oh, and as far as that earlier-referenced lack of punk cred, it’s no real surprise that Lavigne continues to come off looking more like a poseur than an actual rebel – thanks, in particular, to the odd decision to have her harder obscenities unabashedly bleeped on “Girlfriend” and “I Can Do Better.” No, wait, that’s not quite right. They aren’t even bleeped, per se; there’s just an abrupt and very noticeable absence of sound where the word “fucker” should be, and a long “shhhhhhht” in lieu of just coming right out and saying “shit.” It isn’t exactly a shock that she’s chosen to go this route, given that she’s clearly continuing to focus on the mainstream teen-pop market (“mainstream” equals “big at WalMart,” and I think we all know how that chain feels about albums which require a Parental Advisory sticker), but the listener is left with the impression that Lavigne says, “I’m bad enough to say these words; I’m just not bad enough to let you hear me say them,” and, um, well, that’s not really very bad at all, actually.

The Best Damn Thing doesn’t live up to its title – it’s not even Avril Lavigne’s best damn album – but it’s gonna make the teenybopper girls go crazy. It’s just too bad that, creatively and emotionally, it’s more of a step backwards than forwards.

UPDATE: If I hadn’t read this information on a blog whose word I trust, I wouldn’t believe it...but I have, and so I do. Forget everything I said a few minutes ago about Avril not being able to step up and curse with the big girls, and now prepare yourself to be really flabbergasted. Apparently, Ms. Lavigne does utter the words “motherfucker” and “shit” in all their glory; you just have to pony up an extra six bucks to hear them, as the uncensored version of the album – and, mind you, there’s nothing on my copy of the CD which indicates that there’s any other version out there – only appears on the CD/DVD package of The Best Damn Thing. Wow. That’s just…wow. Suddenly, I’m having visions of a late-night commercial: “Hi, I’m Avril, and I’ve got a dirty, dirty mouth. Wanna hear…? For just $19.99, you can! Just call 1-800-Best-Buy, and don’t forget to have your credit card ready.” Unbelievable.

~Will Harris