Are Avril Lavigne's followers ready to ditch those signature ties and tank tops for black nail polish and Cure T-shirts? On her second album, ''Under My Skin'' (May 25), the 19-year-old's gone from sk8r girl to Goth chick, sort of. Lavigne hasn't ditched the poppy faux-punk songs of 2002's ''Let Go'' -- witness the peppy first single ''Don't Tell Me.'' But this time she's recorded gloomy, minor-key rock tunes, too. Sound, um, complicated? It's not.
LIGHT AVRIL ''If I really, really did it exactly the way I wanted to do it,'' Lavigne told EW.com late last year, ''I'd make every song more rock. But you need to be smart -- you need pop songs for radio.'' And she found them. On the album, the single ''Don't Tell Me'' is followed by an even catchier pop-punk tune, ''He Wasn't.'' Though it shares the ''my boyfriend sucks'' theme, ''He Wasn't'' doesn't trudge like some of the album's heavier tracks; instead, it bounces like the Go-Go's, the Ramones, or Green Day, complete with a refrain of ''Hey, hey, hey.''
Other pop-conscious tracks include the mid-tempo relationship laments ''Happy Ending'' and ''Fall to Pieces,'' both of which resemble early Alanis Morrissette. ''Freak Out,'' meanwhile, grafts a melodic chorus onto a mock-metal guitar groove. Finally, the loping, catchy ''Complicated''-sound-alike 'Who Knows'' is the album's most optimistic moment, looking at the beginning, not the end, of a relationship. ''Who knows what could happen... just keep on laughing/ One thing's true/ There's always a brand-new day,'' Lavigne sings, sounding -- thankfully -- young again.
DARK AVRIL Ben Moody, former guitarist for megaselling Goth-rock act Evanescence, collaborated on one number for ''Skin'' -- but it wouldn't be hard to believe that he created most of the album. Though Avril actually crafted the rest of the songs with her guitarist Evan Taubenfield and Canadian singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, it periodically nods in the direction of Evanescence's moody, thrashy-but-catchy metal. (The Matrix production team, who cowrote most of her previous hits, is absent.)
The album's first two tracks, ''Take Me Away'' and ''Together,'' are dark anti-love songs -- soundtracks for sulking, not skateboarding. The opening song may unnerve her fans -- it's Lavigne's hardest rock ever (though it's hardly in danger of being confused with, say, Slayer), complete with pop-metal guitar blasts à la Linkin Park. ''Together'' begins as a piano ballad, but turns out to be another attempt at metal, albeit with a vaguely Celtic, Cranberries-like melody. ''Together, it doesn't feel right at all/ Together, holding hands we'll fall,'' Lavigne yelps.
Later on the album, the ghostly ''Forgotten'' returns us to Goth-land, with ominous descending chords and spooky sound effects. And the CD's somber closing song, ''Slipped Away'' -- a ''Dream On''-like power ballad -- sounds like the clinically depressed twin sister of the first album's single ''I'm With You.'' The lyrics are, to say the least, straightforward: ''I miss you so bad/ I don't [sic] forget you/ Oh it's so sad.'' Wait -- ''I don't forget you''? That IS sad.