Avril Lavigne — like her breakthrough single from 2002 — is, in a word, complicated. The diminutive Canadian with the gargantuan voice has made a career sk8ing the line between pop and punk, cannily switching her target from charts to hearts and back again. For a time, it seemed the former had prevailed: 2007’s The Best Damn Thing was a candy-coated collection of prefabricated, post-feminist party-starters written with proven hit-makers — and halfheartedly dismissed by Avril as ”just songs” (burn!). In contrast, Goodbye Lullaby seeks balance: The first half is loaded with glossy confections, while the second consists of quieter reflections clearly inspired by (and, bizarrely, produced by) her ex-husband, Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley.
Surprisingly, it’s the early tunes, many concocted in the bunker of Swedish genius Max Martin, that show the most personality: The Farfisa-fueled ”What the Hell” and the sassy ”Smile,” with its talk of doctored drinks and blackout tattoos, restore Avril to her rightful place ahead of Katy Perry and Ke$ha in the Sisterhood of the Negligible Pants. But when left alone — on gauzy ballads like ”Everybody Hurts” (an original that somehow manages to be less deep than the R.E.M. standard) — the recently divorced 26-year-old seems desperate to share an artistic inner self that’s far from fully formed. ”Open up your heart…so I can show you who I am,” she pleads on ”Stop Standing There.” It’s not us, Avril. It’s you! B?