After 5 years of anticipating her next release, little black stars (as her fans have been lovingly named) have been blessed with this raw and uninhibited body of work fit for pop royalty.
Avril Lavigne may be described many different ways, but hesitant is not one of them. After a harrowing battle with Lyme Disease and a desperate plea for survival, Avril has opened up about her strengthened faith which resulted from such an ordeal, and these songs give listeners a truly honest view into a life previously shrouded in secluded privacy throughout her recovery. But now, she is back, and has truly never missed a beat – after the album was released this past Friday (February 15, 2019), it climbed the charts at an alarming speed. This makes sense after the titular lead single, “Head Above Water” made similar waves back in September 2018.
This album is far from a swan song – it’s a tortured battle cry waiting to be heard far and wide. Let’s dive right in to each track:
1. Head Above Water
The titular track is filled with both spiritual imagery and natural power from a goddess-like Avril Lavigne, decked out in all white (as seen in the aesthetically beautiful vide0). Ocean sounds greet the listener’s eager ears as the powerful balladic piano begins its chord progression. The pressure builds with the words “my life is what I’m fighting for” and “my voice becomes the driving force / I won’t let this pull me overboard”. Subtle tones of cello and violin join the melodic texture to add to the subtle percussive heartbeat in the background – a beautiful reference to her harrowing journey to recovery. This song means so much to me, and I couldn’t be happier to hear that Avril appears to be crying out to God for help. Something tells me she’s going to be just fine, and this song is a great way to start the album.
“Oh you can’t hold me down / so birdie fly away.” One of the many beautiful sentiments of this album, I absolutely love the overall vibe of this song. It features gorgeous vocal harmonies amidst an appropriately elevated tonal lift as the songstress’ feelings of overcoming struggles take center stage. Distorted vocals appear during the verses, which seem to sonically reference the limitations she experienced while bedridden, and works to highlight the freedom and fluidity of the powerful choruses. Definitely another showstopper, and we’re only two songs in!
3. I Fell in Love With the Devil
A very honest look into how struggle of any kind can feel like a spiritual attack, and how it can be almost impossible to stay strong and vigilant with your wits about you. Stripped-down piano is muted in the background, with Avril’s passionate vocals center stage. Violins and cellos explode onto the scene for the choruses, with a memorable and desperate plea: “I fell in love with the devil / please save me from this hell”. It could be a subtle nod to addiction – be it with a toxic relationship, or perhaps substance abuse. Whatever it is, Avril isn’t afraid to be upfront and honest about her experiences with her illness and the beautiful spirituality that came out of such a difficult situation.
4. Tell Me It’s Over
The second (and most recent music video) released is for this bluesy lamentation of an on-again-off-again relationship in a sort of 12-bar blues style. Avril recalls the ups and downs of a relationship but acknowledges the undoubtedly toxic qualities that make it seem fated for the two lovers to go their separate ways. But, as all tortured love stories seem to illustrate, neither person can seem to fully let go (even if they both know that they should). I especially love her comparison to her heart being “not your revolving door” – it’s
sassy but painfully realistic in its poetic and emotional context. With a vaguely Christmas-y vibe from synthesized chimes and a subtle measure of saxophone, this song is oddly joyful and triumphant for a rather depressing topic. The haunting lyrics of “But every time that you touch me / I forget what we’re fighting about / Oh, you come and you leave /Shame on me for believing every word out of your mouth” leave the listener feeling exactly what she depicts with an alarming accuracy only accomplished by a lyricist of her caliber.
5. Dumb Blonde
Teaming up with fan-favorite rapper Nicki Minaj, Avril Lavigne has penned what will undoubtedly be the hottest girl-power anthem of the summer. Likely the closest nod to her pop-punk roots which made her famous in the early 2000s, this song is just enough nostalgia mixed with newfound maturity. Proclaiming she’s “no dumb blonde, I ain’t no stupid Barbie doll”, everyone better watch out because “we’re bombshells raising hell now”. I love the narrative element of this song being placed right after the mournful vibe of “Tell Me It’s Over”, because it’s basically sonic proof of Avril’s ability to bounce back and be a total #girlboss after all she’s been through. To put it plainly, this song feels like victory. With synthesized percussion and a saxophone taking the lead, mixed with powerful gang-vocals, this song is one to blare out your car windows, proclaiming to the world that you’re ready to dominate and slay whatever you put your mind to.
6. It Was In Me
“Everyone’s got an opinion but I don’t care” probably best sums up this soulful and inspirational track. Long beyond caring what anyone else thinks, Avril proclaims that all that she needed was “a little faith in my life”, and it is these virtues which strengthened her even in her most vulnerable moments. With the violin and cellos making another appearance, subtle acoustic guitar strumming peeks through the surface largely dominated by beautiful piano chords, reminding the listener that Avril is every bit as classy and understated when need be, but she can out-sing anyone with powerful lyrics that leave little black stars all over the globe wanting more. This realization that everything she had been searching for and hoping for was already in herself, is an epiphany worth sharing. Long story short? Ignore the haters, just do you, boo.
This song begins almost a capella, with just some space-y electrified chords floating in the background. But the other instruments join in, including a very breezy acoustic guitar reflecting the overall late-springtime / summery vibe. The message involves Avril asking her love interest if she can remember these happy moments they shared, without it causing her inordinate amounts of pain. It harkens back to her song “Tell Me It’s Over”, but reads as chronologically before those events, back when things were still relatively happy. I love the image of her wanting to “take your shirt to dry my tears” and remembering “I taste the salt in the air and in your sweater that you’re sleeping / I dream about us riding bikes in sunset by the oceans / Those were cutie days, lazy days”. These beautiful images of escapism and bliss bring very sensory-rich feelings to the listener, reminding them perhaps of their own summer romances or what they wish might have happened to them. Overall, the wistful feeling of this song is so palpable and reflects its dream-like state perfectly.
This song begins sonically similar to “Tell Me It’s Over”, but is the most relatable for me – and for that reason, likely my favorite on the entire album. “The way that you talk, the way that you read me, baby” – the small inconsistencies that make up a powerful crush are centerstage here. It also exhibits the interesting dynamic between wanting to fall hard for someone, but also not wanting to be hurt again. This sense of hesitant adoration comes clearly through the music as the soulful chords mix with the piano progression and layer neatly against subtle background harmonies. Everyone can relate to having that crush that just won’t quit, no matter what life throws at them. I’ve had at least one of those that I still struggle with to this day, so this song hits me just where the pain is, wrapping my emotional scars in a soothing bandaid of lyrical serenity and understanding.
When I first heard a brief sample of this chorus on Instagram, I have to admit – I was not a fan. The lyrics seemed a bit childish and contrived, especially with the forced rhyme between “pajamas” and “bananas”. But I have to admit that hearing the whole thing in context with a slick acoustic guitar taking the lead in supporting the vocals, it grew on me consistently. The striking vocal harmonies when she sings “what I’m looking for” provide a nice accent to the piece, in addition to the slight change of dynamic pace in the bridge section. While it’s still not my favorite, I have developed a healthy appreciation for this song that provides a pleasant picture of a healthy, symbiotic relationship (which is definitely refreshing in this world of angsty diss tracks – not that those don’t have their place, of course).
10. Bigger Wow
Cute, very cute. This song is the unicorns and rainbows feel of the album, with a whimsical fantasy of flying like kites while enjoying a sweet romantic relationship. There’s is also a nice thematic parallel to rising above pain and suffering, as alluded to in track #2 “Birdie”. The primary instruments are a soft and melodic electric guitar, with rythmically syncopated drums and slight violin or cello accents. It’s a nice pop mix, something to listen to while painting your nails or having an ice-cream party with the girls. Avril Lavigne proclaims “I’ll meet you in the clouds, I just want a bigger wow” – there is so much more to a relationship than what you might feel you are worth, so never stop searching for that “bigger wow.” Wise words to live by for sure.
11. Love Me Insane
I enjoy the thematic progression of this song from the previous one – as some of the charm of a new relationship has maybe worn off, but it has started to congeal into maybe a new sense of love and appreciation that runs deeper than skin-level. “This time I’m going all-out, sink or swim / I know an angel when I see one / been stuck with way too many demons” remind the listener of her long journey toward holistic wellness. I love the centrality of the cello mixed with a syncopated beat and layered vocals. Fit for a ritzy ballroom, this song screams decadence and fulfillment, with a new maturity that only comes from having one’s heart broken over and over. And from that heartbreak, appears to come a new sense of belonging – and a new beauty found in that brokenness that sometimes is so intense it’s insane. But you wouldn’t want it any other way.
After a lyrical journey into love, loss, and everything in between, Avril ends this album the same way she started – with an anthemic battle cry for survival. Her badass-ery is in full-force as she proclaims “And I won’t bow, I won’t break / No, I’m not afraid to do whatever it takes”. Avril has survived so much, and will continue to do so – there’s nothing she won’t fight through, and the lessons she learned through the pain have ultimately made her stronger. I think this is an excellent closing piece, because it shows – not just tells – the listener that she made it through, and they can too. As a closer, it’s a fantastic foray into the tortured psyche with an inspirational twist.
This entire album has such a melodic and stylistic common theme throughout, which adds to its overall sense of deliberate artistry and prowess. I definitely recommend it for any Avril Lavigne fan, or simply anyone who has been through the ups-and-downs of heartbreak and just needs to know that even pop stars have been there, done that.
Listen to the full album, Head Above Water on Youtube NOW: