IN SEARCH OF AN ADULT VOICE
JON PARELES AND BEN RATLIFF
AVRIL LAVIGNE Goodbye Lullaby When you have the voice of a perpetual teenager, how do you grow up? That’s the question Avril Lavigne, 26, started grappling with soon after she made her 2002 debut album, Let Go, back when she actually was a teenager.
Her chirpy, nasal voice was ideal for the adolescent whine and bratty revenge of songs like Complicated and Sk8ter Boi on Let Go, which has sold more than six million copies in the United States.
She turned glumly introspective on her second album, Under My Skin, then reversed into peppy punk-pop on her 2007 Best Damn Thing, Now, on Goodbye Lullaby, she’s trying to be a little more expansive, vocally and emotionally, without leaving pop territory.
Pop is where her gifts are: matching ringing melodies to generalities and heartfelt clichés.
Her new songs are about holding onto long-term love or letting it go without rancor; many of them were produced by her ex-husband, Deryck Whibley, from the pop-punk band Sum 41.
Lavigne proffers song titles like Wish You Were Here, Remember When and 4 Real.
In the lyrics love breaks through walls and makes her smile, or fades despite itself into a fond memory.
She couldn’t be more earnest; compared with Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, she’s kindly and forgiving.
Most of the tempos approach the stateliness of arena anthems; the arrangements are filled out by strummed guitars and vocal chorales.
Unlike most current pop Lavigne’s music keeps its distance from R&B or dance music.
Stop Standing There, which she wrote herself, builds up to a oldfashioned girl-group extravaganza with hand claps, chimes and pizzicato strings.
Searching for a more adult voice, Lavigne has chosen an unexpected prototype: a fellow Canadian teenage star who grew up, Alanis Morissette.
In various songs Lavigne emul a t e s Morissette’s b l e a t i n g g l o t t a l s t o p s a n d , particularly i n Push and i n Darlin — a song Lavigne says she wrote when she was 14 — Morissette’s placement of choppy vocal phrases against the band’s marchlike stolidity.
Lavigne hedges her bets with some teen-style pop.
The album’s first single, What the Hell —in which she plays a good girl who has decided to “mess around” — is a new wave bubble-gum collaboration with the Swedish songwriters Max Martin and Shellback, whose other clients include Britney Spears, Pink and Usher.
They also collaborated with Lavigne on Smile, in which she slings fourletter words through a tale of rock craziness and love at first sight.
It’s the pop-factory material, not Lavigne’s own presumably more personal songs, that offers details, humor and a sense of letting go.
Her grown-up seriousness could use a little more of them.
REM Collapse Into Now REM is in one of the longest middle periods in the history of popular music.
(I’d say it started in 1987, with Document, four years after the group’s first album, Murmur.) This is not a case of the live shows making the albums seem beside the point, or the group’s members spiraling off to exist more vividly as film-soundtrack composers or humanitarian-aid workers or reality-show judges.
This is still a band, and it still seems to want to tread water.
After a few strong initial tracks, much of the new album, Collapse Into Now, feels undernourished.
Not bare or messy — that might be interesting — just banal.
Jacknife Lee, who also worked on the band’s last studio record, Accelerate (2008), helped produce this album; and like Accelerate, Collapse gives you at least a simulacrum of REM on high-energy mode, loud and sometimes distorted.
(You hear amplifier hum before the opening riff of All the Best, a signifier for garage band at work.) But the new album also gives you the pastoral, folk-rock REM; the band can’t reach the spirit of its first records, but it can do a fair job of revisiting the early-mid years.
But where the spirit-void blankness of REM once felt intuitive and intentional, it now feels accidental.
Most of this record’s musical temperament seems reheated or purchased.
(The high backup vocals of the bassist Mike Mills, and the contrary-motion harmonies between his bass lines and Peter Buck’s guitar lines — two elements that always seem to work, that nobody can take away from this band — are the truest things about the record.) What specifically goes wrong? There’s the flavorless drumming, the gratuitously loud and busy textures, the meat-and-potatoes chord changes in songs like It Happened Today, Mine Smell Like Honey and Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter, reductions, mostly, of REM’s past.
And Michael Stipe has written some pretty poor lyrics here: not only the painful triple meaning in the flâneur ballad Überlin, but also bad examples of wit (“well I’m nothing but confused/with nothing left to lose/ and if you buy that, I’ve got a bridge for you”) and of poetry (“sift through the annals of our flavored times”).
You scarcely need to know that Peaches appears as a guest singer on Alligator Aviator because she sounds generic; or that Eddie Vedder appears on It Happened Today, as his voice enters in wordless harmony in the song’s last 90 seconds.
You might like to know that Patti Smith is in the house: she’s the vatic crooner on the discursive final track Blue, in which Stipe performs a stream-of-consciousness poem, voicing the concerns of a certain time of one’s life.
(He is now 51.) It gets self-helpy: among his lines, delivered in dry, rapid-fire recitation, are “I am a creation of now,” “I’m not giving up easy,” “I don’t have much but what I have is gold,” “This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive.” It makes you look forward to this band in old age, when none of this need be said.