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27th March 2017

Record Reappraisal: Avril Lavigne – Let Go

Rebekah Shaw affectionately looks back at the Canadian singer’s 15-year-old skater-rock debut

Released June 2002 via Arista

That’s right, it’s been 15 years since a teenage Avril Lavigne released her debut album, topping charts in the UK, Canada, Australia and Argentina, amongst others. As an owner of this record — my first ever music album, no less — I have a tender spot for Let Go in my heart. I also believe that it was incredibly important in capturing the attention of angsty pre-teens who hadn’t bought into the pop-craze of Steps and Britney Spears, yet were too young for ‘proper’ rock music. Even Entertainment Weekly described her as the “anti-Britney” in November 2002, a statement with which Lavigne did not agree.

For this debut Lavigne was musically inspired by artists of vastly different genres, from Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks, to blink-182 and Marilyn Manson, to the Ramones and Nirvana. Yet Let Go stands separately, and has even been seen as changing the pop/rock-punk music scene, particularly in helping rise of female-driven pop-punk bands.

Let Go was mixed up with the ‘skater’ trend of the early 2000s, and let young girls (amongst others) know that this was a viable alternative for expressing themselves. However, in a now-YouTube famous interview from this era, Lavigne stepped away from the ‘punk’ and ‘skater’ images created by her PR, moodily describing herself as “just a rock chick”.

I first listened to this album when I got it for my ninth birthday (a year after it came out, when it started to gain traction in major charts in Britain) and I still know the lyrics to this day. At the time, I loved the dramatic, rebellious nature of the record and how much it stood out from most of the music my peers were playing. But I had no true understanding of the experiences my girl Avril was talking about. Listening to it just a few years later — approaching the age Lavigne was when she wrote it — it resonated immensely with adolescence.

Her debut single, ‘Complicated’ demonstrates this — a fond fan favourite, written shortly after getting her recording contract aged just 16. With heavy guitar as her weapon of choice (and pretty constant throughout the entire record), the teenager sings something you were probably saying to your own mum at her age: “Chill out, what you yelling for?” This track perfectly captures the confusion many young people feel as their friends change drastically around them, “you’re acting like you’re somebody else/getting me frustrated”.

Fears of change and fitting in are also a theme throughout tracks ‘Mobile’ and ‘Anything But Ordinary’. In the former, Lavigne is trying to get her head around the pace of her new life, both in the music industry and as a young adult, as “everything’s changing/when I turn around/all out of my control”. Similarly, ‘Anything But Ordinary’ is an anxious struggle to identify outside of ‘ordinary’ boundaries, and understand if you’re doing it right. The line “sometimes I get so weird, I even freak myself out” is painfully, yet suitably, full of teenage angst.

‘Sk8er Boi’ is the standout track from Lavigne’s debut, incredibly catchy and capturing the defiant ‘outsider’ nature of the skater trend amongst young people of the time. It is one of those early 2000s tracks that holds such a fond place amongst people who grew up with it that it is still played at parties by people in their early twenties. She recounts a story of a presumably higher-class girl who rejected a ‘skater boy’ who “wasn’t good enough for her”, yet he ended up becoming a rockstar. Boy, she regretted spurning his advances as she found out about this years later whilst “stuck at home feeding the baby, she’s all alone”.

Lavigne worked with production team The Matrix in songwriting, who she attributes as significantly helping with her musical direction and vision. However, after release, there were several claims from The Matrix that Lavigne was not the primary songwriter on key singles ‘Complicated’, ‘I’m With You’ and ‘Sk8er Boi’, but she has vehemently denied them. This songwriting actually received quite a lot of criticism by music journalists, so why try to take credit for it?

As much as this album is focused on the process of growing up, we must not forget that Lavigne was still a child for the majority of its writing. This is glaringly evident through Let Go, from her use of cringeworthy gimmicks such as Canadian faux-rap in ‘Nobody’s Fool’ and a comical record scratch at the beginning of ‘Losing Grip’, to childish lyrics: “Why should I care? If you don’t care, then I don’t care”. It makes me even more fond of this album, to be quite honest.

Let Go is a series of mood swings: Frustration with how the whole world is against you, to falling madly in love with a boy in your class, to determination that your identity as a ‘skater kid’ is truly you. Avril Lavigne’s ability to capture this teenage angst through music rebelling from the party-pop scene was key in getting this album to multi-platinum status throughout many countries after release. I reckon that this debut was her finest moment — sorry Avril.

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