So this is Avril as an old married woman. ”Get out my face/You’re not my taste…/ Don’t ask why/Goodbye!” the 22-year-old veteran taunts before dissolving into giggles at the end of ”I Can Do Better,” a pop-punk kiss-off on The Best Damn Thing, her third album. ”I wear the pants!” she announces in the even more furiously paced ”I Don’t Have to Try” — adding, ”Don’t you disagree/’Cause you know it’s all about me.” (Selfishness spoof or empowerment anthem? Such a fine line these days.) You surely already know the first single, ”Girlfriend,” where Lavigne is an alpha female out to steal a stud from a meek rival who’s ”like, so whatever.” If the girls of Heathers formed a Runaways tribute band, it would sound exactly like this.
At least Lavigne got over that case of the sullens she had on 2004’s Under My Skin. Also gone: the impressive breadth of Let Go, her superior debut. But as a snot-nosed punk before her once put it, she was so much older then; she’s younger than that now. The dumb, girly, giddy Best Damn Thing reembraces the 15-year-old pom-pom punkette within, with multitracked hand claps, Toni Basil-gone-bad cheers, and pep-rally-rattling guitars. As Lavigne promised on her MySpace page: ”It is really fast, fun, young, bratty, aggressive, confident, cocky in a playful way.” And: ”I will only have like 3 slow songs on the record. Yay!!” Yay, indeed, given how little heart she’s invested in that trio of limpid ballads, including ”Keep Holding On,” a.k.a. the love theme from Eragon.
She saves her conviction for the mosh-ready hits and disses that dominate the disc. If she brings the ‘tude, producers Dr. Luke (Kelly Clarkson), Butch Walker (Under My Skin), Rob Cavallo (Green Day), and Deryck Whibley (her Sum 41-fronting hubby) try to re-create her first CD’s pop magic, with extra rev. Listening to the sputtering chorus of ”Hot” kick in and smooth out, it’s as if she and her Let Go team, the Matrix, never broke up.
Playing this album as an adult will make your SAT score drop retroactively. But grown-ups may recognize something charmingly innocent as well as immature about Avril as a born-again high school sophomore. Snarly rockers such as ”I Can Do Better” feel almost unformed by adult experience, like a schoolgirl’s fantasy of how you’d tell someone off. And, a few expletives aside, this is as asexual as CDs get nowadays; the star may brag about being a ”motherf—in’ princess” but probably also knows her audience isn’t far removed from Disney Princesses. Anyway, she’s provided the best darn rock & roll album teen girls are likely to hear all year…at least till that tough rock chick Kelly Clarkson comes back to bang heads and take names.