Avril Lavigne has been around for a while—international hits such as “Complicated” and “Girlfriend” came over a decade ago, and the singer was dubbed the for her music and fashion style as she dominated the charts. Until Head Above Water came out on Feb. 15, Lavigne hadn’t released a record since her self–titled album in 2013, an up–tempo, pop–rock collection that was but criticized by some for overusing . Head Above Water comes a few years after the singer’s , which inspired the album that she described on as "an emotional journey.” But does the album actually manage to reach that standard and serve as a proper comeback for the now 34–year–old? The answer is a hard, unequivocal no.
The album starts off well with its titular single. “Head Above Water” is a piano–driven ballad that shares Lavigne’s prayers to God to help her overcome the disease. The track is inspirational and has you singing along by the end as the singer expresses her defiance towards the pain she faced. However, the rest of the album is largely a steady decline. “Birdie," “I Fell in Love with the Devil," and “Tell Me It’s Over” cover a toxic relationship. By the end, Lavigne emphasizes , which is an impactful message—but the music itself starts to become repetitive and bland.
The singer has a habit of starting songs with a slow, light intro before entering a sudden, loud chorus that comes across as jarring and cringe–worthy. The next piece, “Dumb Blonde," is a welcome respite that feels like a punk throwback to the insubordinate 2000s—Lavigne as she emphasizes female empowerment with the help of a slick Nicki Minaj verse. “It Was in Me” focuses on the value of self–esteem and recognizing that one chooses their own answers regarding life. It’s a beautiful idea, but the track becomes tedious and overextends itself unnecessarily.
The second half is full of the same problems that plagued the early portion of the album. “Souvenir,” “Crush,” and “Goddess” are more acoustic in nature, but serve as uninteresting dissections of the singer’s love life. There’s not much to say about the songs besides that—Lavigne’s lyrics sound as if they’re straight from any random pop album released in the last twenty years, entirely lacking any modicum of creativity.
Speaking of unimaginative, “Bigger Wow” takes the cake—it’s impossible to even gauge the point of the song, which is supposed to be about but is instead full of random imagery and Lavigne’s desire for a “bigger wow"—whatever that’s supposed to mean. The penultimate song, “Love Me Insane,” is similar to the earlier trio of romance tracks, although it’s more sweet and soulful, and therefore listenable. Lastly, the singer finishes (and saves) Head Above Water with the concluding “Warrior.” Returning to the theme of her battle with Lyme Disease, Lavigne’s vocals and lyrics shine as she paints herself as a tireless fighter that is “steadier than steel” and “won’t break.” The piano and strings meld beautifully together as well. It makes one wonder why the rest of the album couldn’t have been similar.
Head Above Water is an album you listen to once, but probably not again. Lavigne shares essential messages of empowerment, self–love, and tenacity in the face of adversity, but the songs become monotonous and dull. The record does have its highlights, with the opening and closing tracks as well as “Dumb Blonde” standing out in particular. Still, there’s very little to appreciate besides that. If you aren’t a die–hard fan of the singer, you can probably skip this one.