- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

Avril Lavigne

Under My Skin

Arista Records

All Avril Lavigne wants is a decent guy who isn’t too pushy about sex. Oh, she could use a lot more “understanding,” too, and much less “pain and confusion.”

These are the travails of the teenaged Canadian pseudo-punk-pouter, as lamented on “Under My Skin,” the follow-up, out today, to her gazillion-selling debut, 2002’s “Let Go.”

She’s more disaffected — in pose if not in practice — than the simpler girl of “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi.” Back then, if a guy kept it real and stayed out of preppy clothes, he was cool enough for school.

Now you have to make her feel special and open the door for her, too

In other words, be a “Sk8er Gentleman.”

At 19, Miss Lavigne may have to wait a while — or consider dating older men.

In a calculated grab at credibility, Miss Lavigne parted ways with the Matrix, the three-person production squad that pulled the puppet strings on “Let Go.” Here she teams with guitarist Evan Taubenfeld and fellow Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk, a singer-songwriter and classically trained pianist.

Other principals of the reorganized Avril Inc. include producers Butch Walker, Raine Maida (lead singer of Our Lady of Peace) and Don Gilmore, who has worked with such bands as Linkin Park.

What the new management has done is push Miss Lavigne hard and fast toward of-the-moment nu-metal. The opening cut, “Take Me Away,” with its glossy, explosive chorus, brazenly rips off Evanescence’s hit “Bring Me to Life.”

“I can’t handle this confusion / I’m unable, come and take me away,” Miss Lavigne sings, with help from a few more overdubbed Miss Lavignes. The refrain is cathedral-sized, and Evanescence soprano Amy Lee may or not be flattered by Miss Lavigne’s weaker, flatter, imitative alto.

“Skin’s” first light moment, “He Wasn’t,” tries to replicate the giddy punk of Good Charlotte, with an uh-uh-ah evocation of old Go-Go’s pop.

“Don’t Tell Me,” the friskiness-suppressing song mentioned above, is another combination of singsong melody and hard-driving chorus and should do well as a radio single.

In each case, the production, from the standpoint of craft rather than originality, is a thing to marvel at. The tracks are airtight, carefully layered and expertly polished; the pop-metal guitars, channeled through all the right digital effects, thrash and burn and slice.

Lyrically, about two-thirds of the album is loaded with raw, declarative youthful torment.

Check out the drama: “Reality overcomes me / I’m living a lie” (“Together”).

“I am young and I am free / but I get tired and I get weak” (“How Does It Feel,” the album’s signature ballad).

And my personal favorite, the definitive Avril cavil: “You’ve got your dumb friends / I know what they say / They tell you I’m difficult / but so are they” (“My Happy Ending”).

On the final third of “Skin,” Miss Lavigne starts to brighten up. In “Who Knows,” she finds someone who at least passes for sincere, and announces, “I think there’s something more / Life’s worth living for.”

She seems genuinely in love on “Fall to Pieces,” and on “Freak Out” she finds a callow catharsis: “I’m all right / I’m fine / Just freak out, let it go.”

She’s down and then she’s up. So “complicated.”

You’ll have to comb through a whole lot of yeah-ee-yeah-ing and na-na-na-ing to pull out these threads.

If “Under My Skin” is supposed to be about self-revelation, not just irritation, the album is pretty shallow stuff.

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