In 2002, Avril Lavigne released her debut album Let Go. It had several hit singles. It launched Lavigne’s career as a “pop punk princess.” It also sold a crapload of copies, hitting a standard for success that Lavigne’s later albums have never totally matched.
My own weird music listening habits at the time prevented me from ever fully enjoying the album…an album which has aged incredibly well, in no small part due to stellar audio production.
Like I always did at the time, I bought a couple of the hits digitally and listened to them on repeat…then forgot about them and moved on. I don’t know why I used to do this. Until I was in my mid twenties, I had a strange distaste for listening to an entire album all the way through. I had a singles-driven listening mentality. I didn’t want to listen to lesser known songs, those other tracks that didn’t get radio play or tear up download charts. So I didn’t. Even on CDs I owned, I would skip around and only listen to the tracks I liked the most.
So I never really listened to the entirety of Let Go until last year. And wow, it’s a great album!
The first thing that stuck out to me is the quality of the production. I should say first of all that if you’re sensitive to compressed loudness, it’s a pretty loud album. It’s not the loudest album the “loudness wars” have produced, but it’s not as dynamic as something like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. In spite of this it’s very polished and well-produced.
In 2002 I did most of my music listening on cheap Sony headphones or computer speakers. Neither setup held a candle to the nicer stuff I use today. Let Go benefits a surprising amount from proper audio gear. It uses a vast swathe of the frequency range. The instrumentation and soundstaging are complex, and always toeing the line of sounding cluttered, but Lavigne’s vocals stay intelligible throughout. “Sk8er Boi” has some profoundly deep sub bass hits in it that startled me the first time I actually heard them. Every song on the album features a blend of crisp highs, strong mids for vocals, and deep deep bass.
This album seems like it was mixed for gear that most mainstream listeners didn’t have access to in 2002. Most people have probably heard these songs on mall speakers, car radios, or cheap bundled headphones. Today, audio gear is much more accessible, prominent, and desired by home consumers. Let Go is a surprisingly good album to test out your gear with. And not just because it’s well-produced…it also has an identity crisis.
Let Go is not a pop punk album. It’s like a weird…it’s like a weird pop thing? I don’t know what genre to put it in. Some songs are punk-y (“Sk8er Boi”). Some have an alternative, Alanis Morrissette-esque sound (“Complicated”). Other songs are pleasant acoustic things that wouldn’t be out of place in the corner of a cafe (“I’m with you,” “Tomorrow”). Every track feels like it could have come from a different album.
I love this.
The songs are thematically tied together, and Avril’s vocals are consistently on-point, but otherwise, it’s a varied collection of sounds. It seems like each song was written to be a standalone hit single. In a world where most albums have to conform to a certain genre or sound, Lavigne bucked that trend. I’m also impressed at the range on display. The contrast between Sk8er Boi and I’m With You is profound and crazy.
I don’t have much more to say really. You’ve probably already decided what you think about this album, since you’ve had 14 years. You either think Avril is a-ok or kind of annoying, if I had to guess. If you’ve got a decent pair of headphones or speakers though, give this album a re-listen: it might just surprise you.
I think “Nobody’s Fool” is the only track on the album I don’t totally love. It has a kind of low key hip-hop vibe to parts of it? It comes off a little too close to William Shatner sing-talking for my tastes. But it’s still okay I guess.
I also like how Avril’s lyrics often refer to lyrics in her other songs. I know some might decry that as lazy, but I like it.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.