When she's angry, Avril Lavigne may not furrow her brow or curl her lip like some people. Judging from the first few tracks on Under My Skin, when she's truly pissed, she just turns up the guitars.
Loud, chunky, crunchy, searing, shredding six-string explosions provide an angry edge to tracks targeting the things that disturb Lavigne most. Weighty riffs help to realize the throbbing confusion Lavigne feels as she sings, "I can't handle this confusion/ I'm unable, come and take me away."
A cascading piano serenely opens "Together," but that tranquility gives way to the biting truth that she feels better alone than with her guy, as buzzing guitars illustrate her emotional turmoil. And "He Wasn't," the most rocking of the album's dozen tracks, turns everything up to maximum volume as the angst-filled assault takes aim at a boyfriend who wasn't living up to expectations.
That's not to say that the album, due May 25, is devoid of the gentler ballads and pop elements that made 2002's Let Go sparkle. On even its loudest moments, shouts of "Hey!," pregnant pauses, hummable melodies and anthemic choruses keep the music from venturing too far toward the dark side.
Given the freedom to craft these songs with the help of fellow musicians — as opposed to the professional songwriters she used on Let Go — Lavigne shows her affinity for rock, dismissing in the process both the pop-tart and punk tags she was slapped with last time around. The fresh songs also demonstrate her songwriting strength, since most of the music sounds unlike Lavigne's past work and that of her collaborators.
One might think the three songs Lavinge co-wrote with Ben Moody would resemble his old band Evanescence, with Lavigne instead of Amy Lee behind the mic. But actually it's a pair of songs penned with her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld that sound the most like nü-metal.
Moody's tracks are more introspective and emotional. Lavigne examines a girl longing for a return to her youth, despite missing out on the opportunities of the future, on "Nobody's Home," where a fragile jangle evolves into a hard-edged chorus. "Forgotten," whose lyrics and phrasing are slightly reminiscent of Limp Bizkit, allows a droning guitar to represent despair until a driving chorus smashes through the fog to deliver a rousing punch.
The husband-and-wife team of singer Chantal Kreviazuk and Our Lady Peace's Raine Maida assisted with the bulk of the album's tracks, and working with the couple clearly helped Lavigne use different voices in her songwriting, from the bombast of "He Wasn't" to the existential "How Does It Feel?," which peacefully ebbs and flows like waves on the shore as it looks at personal incompatibility. "Who Knows?" perhaps strikes the closest chord to Lavigne's former incarnation, both in its bouncy melody and optimistic theme, while "Fall to Pieces" is a sugary pop-rock confection.
Under My Skin is diverse enough so that every song isn't likely to be fully embraced by even the most loyal Lavigne fans. While uneven, the variety is evidence of a young songwriter finding her groove, and given the immediate allure of the rock songs, Lavigne sounds best with the amps turned up to eleven.
For a feature on Avril, check out "Avril Lavigne: No Looking Back."