20 years since dropping her debut single “Complicated” on an unsuspecting public, pop-punk matriarch Avril Lavigne is back to finding success in pivoting from her downtempo, faith-oriented output in 2019 and whatever “Hello Kitty” was supposed to be back to the power chords of her youth. Linking up with Travis Barker on production, who signed Lavigne to his label late last year and has all but defined a new wave of pop-punk by aligning himself with everyone from legends to teenaged TikTok upstarts, the resulting album can be derivative in certain areas as Barker distills the sound down into a monoculture, but ultimately serves to remind listeners why Lavigne once achieved global superstardom. As the album’s title would suggest, Love Sux finds Lavigne railing endlessly against a litany of exes, and guests ranging from modern needle-movers Machine Gun Kelly and Blackbear to Blink-182 frontman Mark Hoppus appear to help her do it. The crashing guitar mixes on this project would threaten to drown out many other artists, but Lavigne’s classic bratty, sarcastic sneer punches through and lands on some infectiously melodic and sugary choruses to balance it all out. The pop-punk revivalism going on right now is still a long way from being perfected, but not many are doing it better than the genre’s original queen – back to claim her throne.
The opening track “Cannonball” has been described as having almost hyperpop energy, and it’s certainly the most frenetic and experimental here. Kicking off with an impassioned yell from Lavigne, we get a couple speedy, shouted verses with a heavy dose of distortion on her vocals, spiralling into the cosmos as Barker’s pounding drum fills take up all the space. Of course, it’s all centered by an arena-ready huge melodic chorus that captures the kind of genuine punk energy that most of these new imitators can’t quite measure up to – there’s a certain X-factor to the mixture of confidence and derision that modern-day surface level lyrics about sadness feels a little incongruous with. Although the instrumentals begin to get a little tiresome over time, those choruses are really what makes the album soar. “Bois Lie” sees her teaming up with Machine Gun Kelly, who thankfully doesn’t say anything unintentionally hilarious and actually contributes to one of the best tracks here – his gruffness is a perfect contrast for Lavigne’s sharp, biting vocals. The track builds up to a section where they embody the couple’s argument the song is about and trade lines back and forth, coming together in another instantly memorable “la-la-la” hook. This leads into “Bite Me,” the album’s lead single, which feels most like it was manufactured to evoke nostalgia and Lavigne’s younger essence. Ticking off a checklist of buzzwords and tacking on what feels like the most overused somber and contemplative guitar riff, Lavigne and Barker still rise above and press forward with a heavier mix – something that persists throughout the album and delivers some invigorating moments – and Lavigne’s tongue-twisting rhythmic chorus.
In a similar fashion, the next run of three tracks all feel like they have elements of both the good and the bad sides of the recent pop-punk trend. “Love It When You Hate Me” brings blackbear on board for the obligatory trap-flavoured song – despite the fact that one of the world’s greatest drummers in the world is in the mix – and his whiny playground chant of a verse doesn’t fit in quite as well as MGK’s. Still, it’s saved by a chorus I dare anyone to make it through the next day without singing as the crashing guitars take over once again. “The highs, the lows, the yes, the no’s, you’re so hot when you get cold” – we’ve heard it before, but it works for a reason. The title track “Love Sux” brings one of the most engaging instrumentals with massive crunchy power chords and a refreshing twinkly high piano that you wouldn’t normally hear in the mix, but the lyrics here are the most obnoxiously juvenile coming from a woman in her late 30s. Just because the genre was once a young person’s game and you’d typically hear similar lyrics, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing them. “Kiss Me Like the World Was Ending” is the first chorus here that doesn’t really hit as hard as the rest, feeling like a dip in energy from the breathless and wordy verses, but Lavigne throws another surprise onto the bridge with a more angelic section balancing out her belts.
In contrast to the constant crashing of the mix, the track “Avalanche” provides a nice respite and an opportunity for the audience to catch their breath as Lavigne comes through with a bit more of an emotional performance. After all of the vitriol lobbied at ex-partners, hearing her working through some more complicated feelings is nice to hear as she examines things from both sides and brings us back down to Earth. The instrumental picks up once again as the track progresses, but it culminates in a half-time chorus that makes for the biggest stadium singalong moment yet. Of course, after thinking things through, Lavigne gives us the best ex diss track on the album with “Déjà vu,” clearly aimed at Kinder Morgan billionaire Phillip Sarofim with some clever and pointed lines about his immature attitude concerning throwing his wealth around – “you’re an asshole living in a castle” is an inspired rhyme, and she immediately threatens to run him over afterwards. A song called “F.U.” already felt a little redundant after all of that, but if Hayley Williams was upset at Olivia Rodrigo for ripping off “Misery Business” with “good 4 u,” wait until she hears this one. The degree to which the instrumental and structure mirrors it, right down to the rolling drums on the slow build bridge and the brief staccato notes on the 3rd segment of the chorus, is pretty shocking.
While a couple of new faces appear in support, the album couldn’t possibly have ended without a duet between Lavigne and another legend as Travis Barker’s Blink-182 bandmate Mark Hoppus appears on “All I Wanted.” Although his nerdy tone somewhat cancels out Avril’s, these two are titans of their genre and it’s great to hear them come together as they reminisce on the honeymoon phase before it all went wrong. “Dare To Love Me” is the final ballad here, with some orchestral strings even peeking into the mix to complement Barker’s nonstop drum fills. The track contains some of Lavigne’s most impressive vocal moments as she again gets emotional yearning for real love. The album closes out with “Break of a Heartache,” a final, sub-2-minute rager as Lavigne elects to bookend her album with tracks that kick off with a triumphant shout of “motherf**ker, let’s go.”
As Lavigne takes advantage of a trend that she started coming back around, she sounds completely at home – and it’s certainly a nice change in pace from all the madness she’s been doing in recent years that seemed like it lacked direction. She’s back in business and leaning harder towards the “punk” side of pop-punk than ever before.
Favourite Tracks: Bois Lie, Avalanche, Deja Vu, Dare To Love Me, Love It When You Hate Me
Least Favourite Track: Love Sux