Love Sux finds Avril Lavigne blending her punk and bubblegum influences to the best effect in ages.
When Let Go, Avril Lavigne’s debut album, was released twenty years ago, it arrived with the force of an earthquake. The artist was immediately distinguished from contemporaries like the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls: rather than the “manufactured” pop that dominated the late ‘90s and early 2000s, she was an outsider crashing through with her own distinct brand of brash, bratty pop-punk. Combined with her tomboy skater style, Lavigne became an instant teen icon, though her long-term career prospects were harder to forecast. As she swapped punk for bubblegum throughout the years, Lavigne’s popularity wavered and waned, but Love Sux, her seventh studio album, manages to marry the two styles to great effect.
Lavigne establishes the album’s tone within the first ten seconds of “Cannonball”: “Like a ticking time bomb, I’m ready to explode / and motherfuckers, let’s go!” From that moment on, she exhibits unflagging energy over the course of twelve tracks, much in the way she did way back at seventeen. Her collaborators certainly add some freneticism: pop-punk heavyweight Travis Barker produced much of the album, and guest appearances from Mark Hoppus, Machine Gun Kelly, and Blackbear all keep the good times and angsty vibes rolling. Better still, they all manage to match Lavigne’s energy. MGK is a particular highlight on “Bois Lie,” a spirited duet about how everyone lies and nobody listens to one another. But regardless of who it is showing up on any given track, it’s just great to hear Lavigne work with artists whose style compliments hers so seamlessly; previous album Head Above Water, for instance, boasted a memorably confused Nicki Minaj feature, but here all of the guests here feel entirely welcome and at home.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the tracks on Love Sux aren’t deep or profound works, but the pleasure here, and in the genre writ large, is that they don’t need to be: “F.U.” and “Bite Me” telegraph their meanings pretty explicitly from their titles alone. What’s essential is that they are fun. For all the heartbreak and pain communicated on the album, there’s a wonderful spirit of glee that still permeates each song, one that will cause listeners to scream-sing in the car with the windows rolled down, every cut a potential anthem in one’s own personal stadium. And as always, Lavigne has a great ear for melody; songs like the title track and “Love It When You Hate Me” are earworms on the level of “Sk8er Boi.” Of course, there are also a couple of lame lines throughout that effectively date Love Sux — “all up in my feels” and “you’re gonna wish I was your wifey” come immediately to mind — but thankfully, the overall quality of the writing throughout is strong. “You’re not romantic, you for sure are hopeless” is a great kiss-off few others could deliver as successfully as Lavigne, bringing both wit and bite to her delivery. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Love Sux is the way that it manages to sound both nostalgic and contemporary: indebted to the pop-punk renaissance surely, but also a natural continuation of her early work, only — appropriately — a bit more grown-up and with a slew of swears thrown in for good measure. And it manages all this without ever sounding kitschy or becoming overly reliant on old tricks; Lavigne’s greatest trick is in managing to make everything here sound fresh and effortless. It’s the best damn thing she’s released in well over a decade, and a thrilling return to and light evolution of the sound that made her name.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 2.