It wasn't a given that Avril Lavigne would become a pop punk icon. As Jamieson Cox pointed out in his great retrospective Pitchfork review of Avril's 2002 debut album Let Go, when she was signed to Arista, the label saw her as a potential pop-country singer, but Avril's skater image and love of heavier rock suggested otherwise, and when Avril and production team The Matrix wrote "Complicated" and showed it to the label, the rest was history. As that same Pitchfork review points out, Avril had an immediate impact, paving the way for punk-adjacent pop music from Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson, Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, and even Liz Phair (who tapped The Matrix for 2003's "Why Can't I?"), and she's also had a long-lasting impact, having more recently been cited as a formative influence for current indie artists like Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, and Alex Lahey.

Outside of "Sk8er Boi," Let Go wasn't really a pop punk album. Even "Complicated" is too slow to fit the bill, and the deeper cuts range from grungy alt-rock ("Losing Grip," "Unwanted") to sweeping balladry ("I'm With You") to a handful of folky pop rock songs that weren't all that different from what Michelle Branch was doing at the time. And as Avril's career went on, most of her bigger hits drifted even further from pop punk, from the grunge-pop of "My Happy Ending" to the power pop of "Girlfriend" to the pop rock sugar-rush of "What the Hell" to the stadium-sized bombast of "Here's to Growing Up" -- all songs that have endured in their own ways but never felt as monumental as "Complicated" or "Sk8er Boi." Her last album, 2019's Head Above Water, was released after Avril had been cemented as an influence on today's indie/punk music, but it didn't take advantage of the moment, instead opting for some of Avril's most polished pop yet.

There were moments where Avril returned to pop punk over the years, like for example, when she collaborated with Travis Barker on three songs and a bonus track from 2007's The Best Damn Thing. They proved to be a dynamic duo on those songs, so it's great news that now, 15 years later, they've teamed up for an entire album, Love Sux. Travis drummed on it, co-produced it with frequent collaborator (and Goldfinger frontman) John Feldmann and emo-rap/pop punk act Mod Sun, and co-released it with Elektra on his label DTA Records, and it finds Avril and Travis diving back into their respective early 2000s sounds and finding the perfect middle ground. Calling it Avril's return to pop punk would be an understatement; she has never committed to the bit like she does here.

As Avril was switching styles over the years, it often seemed like she didn't know who she wanted to be, but on Love Sux, she knows exactly who she wants to be. It's one of the most focused, cohesive albums of her career, and almost every song sounds like it's crafted to be a hit. She's tapping directly into the formula that she and blink-182 and other likeminded artists used to bring pop punk to the masses in the late '90s and early 2000s, and aside from adding in a few more modern flourishes, she almost never deviates from it. It's not the most revelatory album in the world, but it's basically fan service for anyone who grew up on this sound and still loves it. It's comforting and satisfying the way a TV reboot is. You might know in your head that there's more original stuff out there, but that's not gonna stop you from plopping down on the couch and watching the Gossip Girl and Sex and the City revivals. Love Sux is that same kind of easy but rewarding thrill.

Sometimes Love Sux's early 2000s pop punk revival is a little too on the nose (blink-182 could probably sue for the guitar riffs on "Kiss Me like the World Is Ending" if the members weren't involved in this album), and sometimes it's a little too silly, like "Bois Lie," which is about exactly what you think it's about until Machine Gun Kelly barges in to remind you that, hey, girls lie too! But even the moments that make you want to shake your head are so tightly crafted that you can't help but give in to them. The most painful part about Love Sux isn't any eyerolling lyric or stolen guitar riff; it's that, if you're someone who listened to pop punk in 2002, this album makes you feel so seen that it hurts.

Because of its overt nostalgia, it feels unlikely that Love Sux could ever have the same impact as a moment-defining album like Let Go, but even if nothing here ever gets as big as "Complicated," the songs still feel like hits. Candy-coated rippers like "Cannonball," "Bite Me," "F.U.," and the title track feel designed to get massive crowds screaming their heads off. Repeated listens come naturally, and it only takes a few to memorize all the words. Love Sux connects the Let Go era to the more hip hop-friendly sound of today's pop punk revival with the emo-rap-leaning Blackbear collab "Love It When You Hate Me," and it works in a couple modern sounding alt-pop power ballads with "Avalanche" and "Dare to Love Me." One of its major standouts is "All I Wanted," a song that unites Avril with Travis' blink-182 bandmate Mark Hoppus and sounds like it would've dominated pop culture two decades ago. It occupies the exact middle ground between what Avril and blink-182 were doing in the early 2000s, and it's one of the better songs that either artist has released in the past decade.

Some may argue that the Travis Barker-fication of modern pop punk has made the genre too homogenous, but I think albums like Love Sux prove that when the artist has their own unique flair and power -- as Avril definitely does -- Travis' influence (and unmistakable drumming) becomes a useful tool, not an overbearing factor. On Love Sux, Avril and Travis and their other collaborators just sound like a great team. They bring out the best in each other, and they've made a record that really plays to both of their strengths. Avril's taking advantage of the moment that pop punk is having right now, but she's not bandwagon jumping. She's finally making the album that she's had in her for a very long time.



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