Wherever you were or whatever you were doing in the early 2000’s, Avril Lavigne’s debut album Let Go was inescapable. With esteemed bops like ‘Sk8er Boi’ and ‘Complicated’, it’s safe to say this album thrust pop-punk into the mainstream as the soundtrack of alt kids everywhere. Now, 20 years since its release, our writers return to their (metaphorical) childhood bedrooms to ask: did Let Go have a noughties expiry date, or does it still slap today?
I’m getting old. I get my milk delivered to me in glass bottles, I then use that milk to make porridge for breakfast which I might slice some bananas into if I’m feeling particularly spicy that morning. So, before my eyesight starts to fail me and I begin my long slow descent into the grave It was nice to feel young for the last time by revisiting Avril Lavigne’s first album Let Go.
The classics are still classic obviously. ‘Complicated’ makes so much sense as the album’s main single, and deserves an award for the best pronunciation on the word “pose”. ‘Sk8er Boi’ still stands, in my opinion, as a great example of storytelling through song writing, with the greatest twist ending ever (I will be taking no questions at this time.) And some of the lesser known tracks really deserve to be up there with the best of Lavigne’s later work such as ‘Things I’ll Never Say’, which has the best chorus on the album. (“I want you to go down *pause* on one knee” is just some insane quality). And it’s fun to imagine the Bond movie which never existed that had ‘Unwanted’ as its title theme. But sadly, that’s where the good kind of ends for me.
I’ve heard that Lavigne had some trouble finding her sound at the beginning of her career and that is apparent from this album. The pseudo-rap of ‘Nobody’s Fool’, the small-town acoustic guitars of ‘My World’, and the ballad ‘I’m With You’ all make that clear. The album contains a great number of flavours of Lavigne. But they never coalesce into a united vision. It feels like the producers were throwing a lot of different sounds at the wall and seeing what sticks. And what stuck was the emo-pop punk version of Lavigne’s sound. It’s clearly what works best for her, and if the album only revelled in that aesthetic, then I think there’d be a lot more fun to be had.
So, I’m a big Kesha fan and have been since the main form of internet comedy was parodies of ‘TiK ToK’. I’d say that like Lavigne, Kesha’s career very much began in presenting a certain aesthetic. She was the party girl who liked drink, drugs, and dick, in that order. Her entire first album Animal is chock with party anthems, hedonism, and odes to relationships gone bad. It’s artifice, but like Lavigne it’s fun artifice. It’s not sophisticated and it caters to a very particular fantasy. Then you get to the title track of the album, and it totally knocks you off your feet. “Oh” you think “Kesha actually has some pipes on her.” And she does. It’s a powerful sound way more reminiscent of her later career than from before she dropped the dollar sign from her name. Through Animal you get a glimpse of the true potential that Kesha has as an artist. A potential that I just don’t see with Lavigne’s early work.
I don’t think they’re perfectly comparable, but Kesha’s music has grown with her, and there’s a reason why her current following loves her new music, and why Avril Lavigne’s current following loves her old music. Let Go is all aesthetic and no trousers. The sincerity which is present is the sincerity of a tweens burn book. And to be perfectly clear, I think that’s fine. It’s a fun fantasy, fun to be transported back to a time when porridge and bananas were less exciting.
I’ll preface this to say that aside from her big hits such as the classic ‘Sk8r Boi’ I was pretty much a novice when it came to Avril Lavigne. She was just a bit before my time. Listening to this album I can see how she has influenced the pop punk genre and inspired so many artists (I could hear Olivia Rodrigo, Emma Blackery and even a bit of Taylor Swift at times!), and although I am partial to some pop-punk now and then, admittedly I am more of a R&B girl.
Maybe I need to come back to it and let the album simmer more, but this debut was a mixed bag for me. Going through the album, there were songs that pleasantly surprised me and some where I was desperate to press that skip button. I must say I was taken aback by her vocals at points, particularly in ‘Anything But Ordinary’, which has to be my favourite on the album. I would rank ‘Losing Grip’ and ‘I’m with You’ as joint second. These are the stronger songs on the album, which showcase her voice the best – particularly the chorus in ‘I’m with You’. ‘Losing Grip’ particularly reminded me of Evanescence. Some songs on the album felt like they could have been sung by Taylor Swift or some of the old-school Disney alum. However, as for the rest of the album, I felt the songs were rather repetitive – both sonically, and in their subject matter. The angst was a bit cringe to listen to at times, particularly in the slower paced songs. If a song is going to be angsty, it needs to have lyrical depth; Avril Lavigne could take some notes from Taylor Swift or Frank Ocean, who both weave intricate emotional narratives within their songs.
Despite my criticisms, Avril Lavigne is obviously talented and I can really see how she has paved the way for alternative music. I’m sure many contemporary (especially female) artists go back to her at the drawing board. It’s easy to imagine that Avril gave young girls who felt like outsiders a voice, and someone to look up to – especially since the early noughties was filled with suffocating homogeneity of how women should present themselves. However, for me, it’s just not my favourite genre and the album just hasn’t aged well for me – the sound and the subject matter aren’t particularly groundbreaking.
The thing you need to understand about Avril Lavigne is that she’s not like the other girls. While Christina Aguilera was telling everyone she was gonna get dirty and Britney Spears was telling the world she was a slave for her man, Avril was busy slagging off the pretty girls for not seeing the worth of her new skater-turned-rockstar boyfriend. On first listen, Let Go may feel like a defiance of the music the pop girls of the early 2000s were creating; with a grungier sound and image, emo lyrics about being lonely and misunderstood, and guitars-upon-guitars-upon-guitars to remind you that this is ‘real’ music (and to cover up some incredibly vapid lyrics).
Of course, the great irony of Let Go is, no matter how many guitar riffs they tried to hide it with, this album is an era-defining pop record – not a far cry from what the ‘other girls’ were doing – and has influenced the music we’re hearing today. Many of the songs are full of the same witty verses and catchy choruses you could have expected of any ‘mainstream’ pop artist of the time, most notably ‘Complicated’, ‘Sk8ter Boi’, and ‘Things I’ll Never Say’. Meanwhile, ‘My World’ and ‘Anything But Ordinary’ both feel like they should have been put on the soundtrack to a teen rom-com starring Lindsay Lohan.
Admittedly, Let Go does make me think of Avril Lavigne as a yassified Alanis Morissette, but that doesn’t mean I hate it. Sure, there are incredibly annoying parts, such as when she raps the verses on ‘Nobody’s Fool’, spends a whole verse describing her hair washing routine on ‘My World’, or opens the song ‘Anything But Ordinary’ with “Sometimes I get so weird / I even freak myself out” and is then infuriatingly unable to explain what specifically makes her so weird compared to any other teenage girl.
Yet there are plenty of dopamine hits dropped throughout Let Go too – the moment I realised the “yeah yeah”s at the end of ‘I’m With You’ are the same ones Rihanna sampled in ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ is now a core memory burned into my brain. Another is on ‘Things I’ll Never Say’, which should have won at least 10 different comedy awards just for the chorus alone, where she admits she wants to “blow you” (away, that is) and “see you go down” (one one knee, of course). I mean, would Britney have had the balls to release the innuendo-infused ‘If You Seek Amy’ without Avril writing ‘Things I’ll Never Say’ first? Probably, but Avril was funnier about it.
It’s hard to listen to Let Go without also thinking about how it shaped the music being released twenty years on. Would we ever have had the “pick me” era of the 2010s, with belters such as Paramore’s ‘Misery Business’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘Better Than Revenge’, without Avril Lavigne setting the stage for teenage girls to write rock-infused pop songs about the boys who broke their hearts (and, for better or worse, the girls they left them for)? How many TikToks wouldn’t have been made if Avril Lavigne hadn’t made it possible for Billie Eilish to go full angry-girl-music-of-the-punk-rock-persuasion at the end of ‘Happier Than Ever’? Or, had Let Go not opened up with ‘Losing Grip’, would Olivia Rodrigo ever have had the guts to put ‘Brutal’ as the opening track of Sour? I don’t think so.
You can listen to Let Go on all major streaming platforms.