By: Penny Rae Hawkins
Avril Lavigne is pissed off at the world, frustrated with love and she’s never sounded better.
In her first release since 2019’s Head Above Water, Lavigne uses this album to take her rightful place among the decade’s pop punk/emo revival. Opening up the album with “Cannonball” is a fantastic decision, showcasing full-bodied production and honeycrisp apple guitars fresh from Warped Tour’s orchard. Lead single “Bite Me” is bratty and youthful without being unbearably immature, and I’m always a sucker for the way the instruments drop off before the last chorus. It puts a much-deserved spotlight on stellar vocals that are very distinctly Avril. Those vocals are particularly well-highlighted on “All I Wanted” featuring Mark Hoppus. Another Blink 182 member, his voice compliment’s Lavigne’s insanely well on a song about ex-partners who miss each other bitterly. Classic pop punk “woah ohs” round out this killer track, making it the best collaboration on the record.
Love Sux is packed with mosh pit-ready tracks like “Kiss Me Like the World is Ending,” “F.U.” and “Break of a Heartache.” The latter song is more punk than she’s ever been, ripping herself open and bleeding all over her more pop-leaning brand of angst. A particular standout on the album is “Bois Lie” featuring Machine Gun Kelly, a track with two unreliable narrators who are made supervillains by the toxic waste dump that was their relationship. The two spar and point the finger without once directing it at themselves, which makes for a fascinating look inside a relationship they never should have started.
Particularly noteworthy is “Deja Vu.” Its lyrics explore how loving an addict is the most bitter pill. Warm guitars blend effortlessly with heavy drums, solidifying “Deja Vu” as a real highlight. The only real low point for the album is “Love It When You Hate Me” featuring Blackbear. Despite the couple still being together, the relationship is just as toxic as the one in “Bois Lie” without any of the venom that made it guilty fun. While not strictly being a bad song, I don’t think this album has one, it’s simply redundant and doesn’t clear the high bar the rest of Love Sux set.
“Avalanche” is easily the most vulnerable song on the tracklist. Lyrics like “I wish my life would’ve come with instructions” and the introduction of fuzz pedals help visualize mascara tears she has so blatantly shed. However, “Dare to Love Me” is a fantastic contender for that title. A spare piano intro slowly builds into something utterly incredible, especially with Lavigne exploring vocals comparable to a good cabernet: full-bodied and utterly rich. Beyond everything else, it ties the album together with one undeniable fact: despite all the genuine rage and venomous regret, Lavigne still believes in love. She’s simply been burned too many times to risk dropping carefully constructed walls that protect her battered heart.
The album benefits from having veteran rock producer John Feldmann, who has been producing albums for acts including but not limited to Reel Big Fish, The Used, Story of the Year, Panic! at the Disco and Mod Sun (also a producer on Love Sux) for as long as I’ve been alive. However, the album’s real secret weapon is Travis Barker, the Blink 182 drummer who is quickly making a name for himself as a powerhouse producer. Not content just with helping Machine Gun Kelly go from a mediocre rapper to one of the leaders of the pop punk revival, Barker helps craft a project that is nostalgic in sound without being redundant or cliche. It’s fresh, blunt and a generous slap in the face to anyone’s scummy ex-lover (or lovers).
Love Sux by Avril Lavigne is not simply a great album or return to form. It’s a record that gives Lavigne room to rage where there was once mere angst, and the first record from the rocker with real teeth that she’s had more than enough time to sharpen.