On a comeback attempt, Avril Lavigne’s Head Above Water takes the blueprint Kesha used when her music style shifted gears on 2017’s Rainbow: the radio-friendly vibe is traded in for a more emotional adult contemporary feel. Both works presented a pop star of yesteryear rebounding from personal trauma, Lavigne’s tribulation being a battle with Lyme disease.
The revival is backboned by the title opening and lead single that made waves last year. Lavigne ditches her trademark pop-rock sound for a power ballad that doubles as both an ode to overcoming her health complications and getting her music career back on track. A non-brashy tune is precisely what Avril needed to revitalize her credibility after the atrocity that was “Hello Kitty”. The only downer is that the reintroduction of the 00’s icon never exactly hits that goosebump-inducing threshold Kesha accomplished on her hair-raising anthem “Praying”.
The next track “Birdie” has another chorus brought to life with Lavigne’s devoted delivery. Despite troping with the overused “flying” metaphor, it too achieves the feeling of motivation to go out and conquer life’s obstacles. “Tell Me It’s Over” puts a sadcore spin on a typical breakup by starting with a twangy guitar. Lavigne spends the song to reflect on a past toxic relationship, but the empty hook is one of many across the LP.
After a few more stimulating musical speeches, the song “Dumb Blonde” comes out of absolutely nowhere. If the featured Nicki Minaj yelling “Young Money!” at the start didn’t tell you it was gonna be the album’s outlier, then Avril shouting “I ain’t no dumb blonde/ I ain’t no stupid barbie doll!” certainly did. The track sounds like it was ripped straight out of 2004, but Minaj’s verse ensures it wasn’t vaulted 15 years ago. Its jumpy, nostalgic pop-rock sound will surely satisfy those who came for a throwback to Avril’s “skater girl” days. The stark sonical contrast only makes the track even more a stylish standout.
After the uplifting first act and throwback anthem, the LP’s listenability takes an unfortunate tumble. Dragged down by a forgettable back half, “Crush”, “Goddess” and “Bigger Wow” are plain filler bits for Lavigne to gush over her man. The finale “Warrior” is co-written by Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger (a.k.a. the ex-husband who’s probably the continuously mentioned man she still claims to spend time with), but it comes off only as a wannabe version of the powerful title track.
Lavigne was and clearly still is more oriented towards being a singles artist. Head Above Water has its moments, but it lacks driving lyrical quips and loses its touch midway through. Her return to relevance has been rejoiceful, but her sixth studio album isn’t enough to get Avril back to the top.
SCAD Radio gives it a 6.5/10.