While her previous ballad-heavy album certainly had its moments, and offered an impressive showcase of Lavigne’s power-house vocals; at its worst it was something Lavigne’s music up until that point had never been – boring. You can say what you want about Lavigne’s follow-up Love Sux, but boring it certainly is not. Buoyed by classic pop-punk deference to power chords and the exhilarating drumming of Travis Barker, Love Sux brings the energy up to a 10 almost immediately and rarely turns it down across the album’s 33 minutes. Tracks like lead single “Bite Me” stand out as some of the angriest, loudest songs of her career.
Love Sux hits its targets far more often than its predecessor, but while it may be a return to her roots, it’s still not quite a return to form. Travis Barker’s drum performances on these tracks, while endlessly impressive, become stale and repetitive towards the end, and the heavy compression of these tracks can make them feel claustrophobic – almost suffocating. Meanwhile, as fun as it is to see Lavigne revive the sounds of old, on songs like title track “Love Sux” she crosses the line from nostalgic to dated; with cries of “na-na-na” distracting from a fantastic guitar-riff that recalls Celebrity Skin-era Hole.
Much of Love Sux’s short-comings aren’t entirely Lavigne’s fault, but instead lie with her collaborators. “Bois Lie” would be far less cloying than its title would suggest if it wasn’t for Machine Gun Kelly’s feature. Meanwhile, “Love It When You Hate Me” would be a truly exemplary pop-punk banger if it wasn’t for blackbear’s verse – where he moves from self-pity (“I don’t think anyone could save me”) to just straight-forward cringe (“you could still be pretty on the inside too”).
The third track with a feature, however, is so good it almost makes up for blackbear and MGK’s underperformances. “Mark’s Song” – featuring Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus – sees the two punk veterans trade in various past memories for a surprisingly affecting number that even contains a nod to one of Lavigne’s most beloved songs (“Me and you / We can’t lose… / I’m with you”).
Love Sux ends with “Break of a Heartache”, whose cry of “Come on mother-fuckers, let’s go” recalls opener “Cannonball”. It’s another bombastic number, that sees Lavigne confidently brush off past burdens and trauma (“I don’t feel that bad!”) It’s reassuring to hear her in this state of mind after the unrelenting heaviness of Head Above Water. Even if Love Sux isn’t a perfect album, it’s certainly a well-deserved victory lap from someone with little left to prove.