Avril Lavigne — “The Best Damn Thing”

Released: 6.13.08

Peak: #91[Pop 100]

No stickler for genre tags, I’d have never faulted the silly thing for saying “punk” and meaning “power pop” if her hits indicated that she could tell “Surrender” from “The Flame” or “Go All the Way” from “Hungry Eyes.” Avril lacked the lungs of a Mariah or Christina, so her human-scale ballads skipped along the earth like flightless birds rather than soaring too close to the sun. Still her pivotal role in the brunette post-Britney backlash straitjacketed her persona, so that even “Complicated” bogged down in uptight (albeit credible) teen moralism. Skateboards clearly have no business in the middle of the road.

But like the chewing gum under your desk, Avril only got trashier as the years went by. Old enough by 2007 to no longer act her age, she recast her brattiness as an ornery sexual aggression with “Girlfriend.” Dr. Luke’s inflatable power-chords still retained their pleasurable wallop (he and Katy Perry hadn’t yet teamed up to crush our souls beneath the combined weight of their strident exuberance) and the Lil Mama remix has such charms of its own that my memory helpfully supplies a bouncy “Lil Mama and Avril La-vigne” when I listen to the original. But an Avril Lavigne tune about stealing from faceless boy from some undeserving preppy girl? Lay back, it’s all been done before.

Pissier and poutier than “Girlfriend,” “The Best Damn Thing” relies less on belittling ballerinas to buoy its self-esteem. And unlike ascendant maestro Luke, Butch Walker doesn’t subsume his every craftsman’s flourish in a monolithic whole—that pretty piano hook before the pre-chorus would never have survived the good doctor’s scalpel—though he retains the virtuous lack of principle that distinguishes commercially viable power pop from stiff underground revivalism. As for Avril herself, she even obviates the need for Lil Mama, calling for a “Hey hey hey” and a “Hey hey ho” from her mixed-gender cheerleader squad and kicking her own white-girl playground rap to let us know what A-V-R-I-L stands for, while semblances of her earlier persona surface in the Valley Cannuck-inflected “o” in “not the same.” And if the “motherfuckin’ princess” of “Girlfriend” was borderline clinical, here Avril is a difficult woman in praise of herself, her simple demands including a little personal space during her period and a door chivalrously held open. A girl can dream…

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