The princess of punk rock is back–but can she still bear the crown? Album Review: Avril Lavigne’s “Love Sux”

Clad in classic emo-girl get-up, hair bleached fiery-red at the tips, and eyes shadowed in ink-black, Avril Lavigne is the spitting image of her peak teenage glory, when she first topped the charts with hits like “Sk8er Boi” and “Girlfriend” that set off a new wave of popularity for the punk rock genre. On Feb. 25, Lavigne returned in full force to her punk-rock roots with the release of Love Sux, a new album charged with nostalgic angst.

What has changed is the persona she now dons–no longer is she the sassy, flirtatious girl in “Girlfriend,” or the cool rebel in “Complicated.” Old Avril can’t come to the phone right now. This new, fictional Avril has suffered through a rotten relationship and a burning breakup that’s left her hell-bent on more than just plain revenge. 

Artists have long been hammering out savage, post-breakup bangers to slam a former lover–take Paramore’s “Misery Business,” Taylor Swift’s “Picture to Burn,” or Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U”–but Lavigne takes the art of hurling vitriol on an ex to a whole new level.  

In the lead single “Bite Me,” Lavigne pulls out all the stops. A reunion with her long-time collaborator Travis Baker, it’s a refreshing tug right back into the 2000s music scene of punk rock, with the characteristically intense percussion and belted vocals. 

She smirks as she plays her electric guitar, never blinking those piercing blue eyes as she stares you down and taunts, “You should’ve known better/better to fuck with someone like me.” 

Lavigne continues this heated vendetta in songs like “F.U.” and “Bois Lie,” sparing no blows. “You’re the villain,” she spats. “You put a knife into my back and tried to write your name.” Here, she once again launches into her signature abrasive rock style, with the fierce drums and sing-song chants and pulsing electric guitars. 

Though beyond her thinly veiled threats and feigned indifference, other tracks suggest she’s not yet “over’ the toxic relationship, and is, in fact, struggling with a far more complicated maelstrom of emotions. This is what Love Sux does so well with the age-old material of breaking up: Lavigne shows us not just the bold, vehement woman who emerges out for blood, but also the grieving, broken girl crying her heart out once the whirlwind fantasy romance shatters. 

In “Break of a Heartache,” we see the Avril fresh from the break-up, forcing herself to admit the destructive nature of the relationship and finally let go: “I don’t wanna take another rip, ‘nother strain, ‘nother bruise.” But the heavy devastation in the lyrics is smothered by dizzying instrumentals; without any context, the pounding drums and cymbal strikes and Lavigne’s estatic belts simply make the song sound like another summer teenage anthem, all fun and games. 

The same goes for the other songs swearing cold-blooded revenge, and there’s just too much of them shoved into one album. Hearing Lavigne fling insults once is a thrill–when overdone, it descends to mere, undignified ranting. One even starts feeling sorry for the former boyfriend!

What redeems Love Sux are the slower, more deliberately and thoughtfully arranged tracks like “Dare to Love Me” and “Avalanche,” that truly rip at the heartstrings. That’s where we see the Avril-in-healing, the Avril meeting someone new, but “fucking afraid” to take the leap, scarred by past betrayals, terrified to open her heart again. 

“Don’t say you love me if you don’t mean it,” she begs. Lavigne’s voice shifts into a softer, pleading tone that pools in vulnerability. Dabbling into mild pop sounds, accompanied by some light synths and drums, Lavigne artfully portrays the heart’s fragility once it’s been broken, and how hard recovering from a break-up can be. 

Of course, Lavigne’s no wordsmith or poet–she’s more like a casual together-slapper of words, using the same sort of colloquial language she always does. She doesn’t think too hard about each word–she just sings what she feels. And perhaps, these straightforward words carry a more genuine tone and cut more into the heart, because what teenager breaks down with a string of fancy prose? 

The new songs both amplify and soothe; they agitate, they comfort, they sympathize, they triumph, and so they will empower the young girls who listen to them, because they’re not alone in their despair, hurt, and recovery. And no matter the scale of her own pain, Avril never denigrates the “other woman,” because she understands that women ultimately have to support each other. 

Love Sux carries deep emotional baggage, but also expels it. The old Avril is dead, because she has grown-up–matured. New Avril hasn’t found her happy ending yet, but we get the sense that she’s close. She’s content. So let us welcome the princess–or should I say, the queen–of punk rock back to her throne where she belongs.