"Life's like this" intones Avril Lavigne at the start of her smash-hit "Complicated". It's a statement of experience and wisdom, something you might hear from an uncle instead of a diminutive skater-punk from Canada who isn't old enough to buy cigarettes yet.
That's a large part of the appeal "Let Go", the debut album from 17-year-old Avril who — decked in black, arms crossed - stares out defiantly from the CD cover. This bad-attitude waif swings a guitar (yes, she plays it) and belts out vocals with such disarming self-confidence, it would seem petty to criticize. There's no indication whatsoever that Avril would give a damn anyway. To be sure, there's a lot of immaturity in this freshman effort. The backbeat could have been filled by a drum machine. The arrangements are standard fare and the lyrics are often pedestrian ("He was a skater boy / She said 'see you later' boy). But then there's Lavigne's soaring voice, forgiving all sins. Her sharp, strong, vocals have been compared to fellow Canuck Alanis Morrisette, but they remind me of Suzanne Vega — clear and crisp, moving effortlessly from one octave to another, often overshadowing the lesser instruments in the song.
Along with "Complicated" the songs on "Let Go", written by Lavigne, speak to the themes of a high-school teenage grrrl. The uptempo "Sk8er Boi" deals with snobbishness and lost love while "Unwanted" speaks to social isolation. These cuts and several others ("My World") are delivered with grinding guitars and a touch of bitterness. But Lavigne also knows how to back off, revealing some vulnerability with the flowing "Tomorrow", "I'm With You" and the great "Anything but Ordinary" which should be her next single.
In a music scene crowded with well-coiffed, body-shaped, divas-in-training, Avril Lavigne offers a welcome alternative, and she has the talent to carve out her own niche without the help of Diane Warren. "Let Go" is her manifesto — join her at the party.