Avril Lavigne is a romantic. That's a hard concept to wrap your mind around. For nearly a decade, she has been pop's most unregenerate grump, sneering contempt for everything over bubblegum-punk hooks. Her latest hit, "What the Hell," offers more of the same: Avril in mean-girl mode, inflicting psychological torment on her boyfriend. But "What the Hell" turns out to have been a bait-and-switch. Goodbye Lullaby is lovelorn and introspective, full of gusty tunes with a surprising message: Avril cares. In the jangling power ballad "Wish You Were Here," she confesses, "There's a girl that gives a shit/Behind this wall."
That song, like three others here, was co-written by Lavigne, Max Martin and his frequent collaborator Shellback. Elsewhere, Lavigne gets production help from the L.A. studio ninja Butch Walker and her ex-husband, Sum 41's Deryck Whibley. The result is an especially sturdy radio-pop record whose catchy tunes come in different flavors: unabashed love songs ("I Love You"), tender consolations ("Everybody Hurts") and romantic post-mortems ("Goodbye"). At 26, Avril is a grown-up with a failed marriage behind her. In "Stop Standing There," one of the album's best songs, she rails against a lover's reticence: "Please tell me who you are/So I can show you who I am," she pleads. Spoken like a girl who gives a shit.