Head Above Water – Avril Lavigne

The lead single on Avril Lavigne’s 2013 self-titled album was an ode to youthful recklessness called “Here’s to Never Growing Up.” But six years later, having come out the other side of a public divorce from Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and still dealing with the effects of contracting Lyme disease, it’d be hard not to grow up just a little bit.

Indeed, many of the songs on Lavigne’s sixth studio LP were written during her prolonged illness and reflect a real maturation, deepened life experience, and honest soul-baring (make what you will of the album’s artwork). On the title track, when she sings, “God keep my head above water,” she’s essentially reciting an actual prayer spoken from what she thought might be her deathbed. That booming opener’s lyrics have a universal appeal, and they set an empowering tone that Lavigne ushers through the rest of the record. Big pop ballads abound, whether spare and piano-led (the searching “It Was in Me”) or opulent and laden with strings (“I Fell in Love with the Devil”).

The swaggy, Nicki Minaj-featuring “Dumb Blonde” is a bit of an abrupt lane-change, but it merges with the album’s overarching theme: Sick or not, Avril is still a confident, strong, take-no-BS woman. Her biggest development as an artist, though, is on full display in the reverb-heavy “Tell Me It’s Over”—it’s like Dolly Parton singing bluesy gospel-soul, the truest example yet of how powerful Lavigne’s voice has become.

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