Easy to make but hard to master, pop–punk has its fair share of vocal critics for being overly generic and juvenile. Avril Lavigne is one of few artists who not only knows the genre’s ins and outs but also has the ability to craft undeniable hits without sacrificing artistic integrity. In her prime, Lavigne was cranking out chart–toppers like “Girlfriend” and “Complicated,” songs that are as catchy as they are relatable. Like her pop contemporaries though, Lavigne eventually drifted away from the sound of her early years. Christina Aguilera found a home in Spanish music on La Fuerza, Nelly Furtado transitioned to indie pop on The Ride, and Lavigne herself tried her hand at more stripped back production on Head Above Water. However, in the wake of pop–punk's surge, Lavigne is going back to her roots. Twenty years later, she makes a return to the realm of teen angst and rebellion on Love Sux, though without the boldness or fearlessness we would typically expect from the artist.
As the opening track for the album, “Cannonball” is a missed opportunity for Lavigne to splash the listener with a new sound. Complete with pop–punk's signature strums of electric guitars and deafening drums, “Cannonball” is Lavigne’s take on channeling her ferocity. She makes her presence known by acting like a “ticking time bomb” and coming “in hot like a cannonball,” but these statements are deafened by the awkward switches in tempo and blurred lines between voice and instrument. Make no mistake—Lavigne is still as exuberant as ever, and the adolescent vigor from Let Go or Under My Skin remains a part of Lavigne’s personality. But if “Cannonball” was meant to be our first dive back into the Y2K era, then it sounds like a half–hearted, incomplete replica. However, “Cannonball” does a decent job at attracting new fans while satisfying her old listeners through the song’s undeniable similarities to Lavigne’s breakthrough.
Continuing with her appeal to both emo millennials and the TikTok–obsessed Gen Z, Lavigne collaborated with Machine Gun Kelly on the following track “Bois Lie.” If the misspelling of “sux” in the album title wasn’t enough of an indicator, the title “Bois Lie” is proof that Lavigne is transporting us back to the start of the millennium. This time, she’s accompanied by an artist from a different generation, although this wouldn’t be obvious from their natural synergy. The duo, who reminisce over the young and naïve kind of love where “bois lie, but girls lie too,” is the perfect match for the track’s nostalgic energy.
When Lavigne is paired with sentimental lyrics and instruments, she excels. “Avalanche” perfectly showcases that talent: It's not only one of the best songs on Love Sux, but also a career highlight in Lavigne’s packed discography. With decades in music under her belt, Lavigne is vulnerable and reflective of her past on this mid–album refresher. She admits that she doesn’t “feel alright on the inside” even if she says she’s “just fine,” and she recognizes when it’s okay to be “not okay.” The buildup of dramatic drums and background strings concludes in a moment of pure emotional release. In contrast to her young adulthood on Let Go's “I’m with You,” where she begs for someone to take her “somewhere new” even if she doesn’t “know who [they] are,” Lavigne is confident in herself to take control of her destiny.
Lavigne mostly plays it safe on Love Sux, but the more experimental moments don’t completely reinvent the wheel either. “Love It When You Hate Me,” her collaboration with rising star blackbear, uses trap beats in tandem with the more traditional punk instrumentals. “Dare To Love Me” is Love Sux’s sole ballad, one that could fit on any of Lavigne’s transitionary albums in between her emo periods. Since both songs deviate from Lavigne’s more familiar structures, they take some time to get accustomed to. These tracks are also night and day in their major themes—love’s difficulties are discussed at length on “Love It When You Hate Me,” (“And I / Ignore all the warning signs”), but Lavigne also craves affection on “Dare To Love Me” (“Would you love me through the darkest of nights?”). While albums shouldn't be too cohesive, Love Sux fails to make a definitive statement about what love truly is.
In the past decade, there have been multiple revivals in music besides pop–punk, such as synth–pop, disco, and pop trap. What separates pop–punk from the rest is its relative lack of innovation and number of issues and controversies, indicating a need for reform. It’s a daunting task, but pop–punk is not the only genre to overcome these roadblocks. After its domination in the ‘80s, disco wouldn’t see major boosts in popularity until just recently. 2020 blockbusters like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure?, and Róisín Murphy’s Róisín Machine combined old and new elements of the genre to make its presence felt once again. On the other hand, The Weeknd’s After Hours and Doja Cat’s Planet Her have removed any barriers that divided pop from R&B and rap by blending all the elements in every song. Now it’s time for pop–punk to have its own revolutionary, trailblazing record.
In today’s musical climate, new music depends more on trends than on originality. Love Sux offers some additions to the modern pop–punk scene but doesn't bring in any new ideas. While the album is Lavigne’s most critically acclaimed, these reviews could merely be a result of poptimism or a change in the narrative surrounding Lavigne herself. The album feels familiar and is mostly pleasing to the ear, which doesn’t necessarily detract from the listening experience. It’s a necessary starting point to see a music industry veteran come back with the sound that made her big in the first place. But if Lavigne wants to be as groundbreaking as she was when she first debuted, there’s plenty of room for improvement on Love Sux.