Roughly a year after Avril Lavigne released her eponymous fifth album in 2013, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her illness informs Head Above Water, which arrives six long years after Avril Lavigne -- the longest time separating Lavigne albums by far. Considering that half-decade gap and all the personal turmoil the singer endured, it scans that Head Above Water unveils a different Avril Lavigne, one who proudly bears her scars and is eager to share her journey. Head Above Water has its moments of darkness, but they're not sad, they're stirring. The album is designed to offer solace while also being a rallying call. Inspirational music, in other words, so it's not entirely surprising that its title track was serviced to Christian radio in advance of its release -- a gambit that proved successful, since "Head Above Water" went to number five on the Christian radio chart. Despite this, Head Above Water can't be called Christian music by any measure -- no album with "Dumb Blonde," a cherry bomb stomp of defiance featuring a Nicki Minaj verse could -- but its quieter, contemplative moments, of which there are many, do veer toward the aspirational pop of Rachel Platten, a sign Lavigne is no longer the mall punk of lore. Although the album is weighed heavily by ballads suited for adult contemporary radio, Lavigne fortunately peppers it with moments of levity: "Tell Me It's Over" sways with echoes of a '50s slow dance, "Crush" is so light it floats into the stratosphere, and "Bigger Wow" swells with strings reminiscent of vintage Vanessa Carlton. Such moments provide a needed contrast to the motivational ones while also connecting to Lavigne's bubblegum roots, a move that makes the overall maturation of the album feel earned.
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