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Avril Lavigne

The Best Damn Thing (RCA)

Those who think that pop-music junkies represent fandom's lowest common denominator should read the comments left on iTunes about Avril Lavigne's cheerleader-chant-from-hell single, "Girlfriend." Namely, this astute one: "The avril i looked up to was her own person, and proud of it. She wasn't afraid to act like herself, and rebel against things she didn't agree with. Who is she now?" Brilliant observation, at least after listening to Lavigne's disappointing third album, The Best Damn Thing. The lyrical sophistication and musical leaps she made on 2004's Under My Skin are gone; instead, Thing relies heavily on sub-Good Charlotte punk-pop, bland hooks and downright insipid sentiments. More disturbingly for budding feminists: Lavigne's attempts to embrace her girly side (a move for which the ex-Sk8er Girl has received much flak) mistake empowerment for helplessness ("I hate it when a guy doesn't get the tab, and I have to pull my money out — and that looks bad," she coos on the title track). In fact, for all of its Joan Jett-esque pop-power, "Girlfriend" is at its heart about two girls fighting over a guy, the very same girl-bullshit that breaks up countless adolescent friendships — and the very sort of stereotypical-chick behavior Lavigne used to scorn. Still, Thing isn't completely without merit. "I Don't Have to Try" begins with a Peaches-like rap ("I'm the one who wears the pants/I'm the one who tells you what to do") and features Lavigne doing her best riot-grrrl squeals (and, amusingly, sounds like Sum 41; Lavigne's hubby is that band's Deryck Whibley), while "Hot" and "Contagious" are calorie-free pop pleasures. Still, they aren't enough to save Thing from falling flat as Lavigne's coming-of-age album.

 
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