A branded iconoclast who's not only small and slight, but also Canadian, Avril Lavigne came into the world as a reverse-negative of a pop star. Her rock angle has nothing to do with R&B or hip-hop. Her skater-girl look is markedly sexless. Her persona—the parts of her not associated with the lingering choruses of her hits—is all but nonexistent. Mostly, Lavigne isn't a pop star so much as a girl who hangs out with hooks and follows their instructions.
Hooks haunt and taunt her on Under My Skin, the decidedly dour follow-up to her 2002 debut Let Go. For an artist who scans as punk (at least enough to sneer off the present-day importance of The Sex Pistols, as she did in Entertainment Weekly), Lavigne sounds more wounded than brash on an album dominated by beguiling boys and their hurtful ways. The first single, "Don't Tell Me," finds her pining for a knob who tried too hard to get in her pants, and sounding more devastated than defiant. In the would-be anthem "Who Knows," Lavigne teeters between "there's always a brand-new day" and living "today like it's my last day."
Niggling inconsistencies might not matter much, but they signal Under My Skin's fateful habit of falling toward a default doom-and-gloom mode. Mascara-streaked moods dictate an excess of ballads and rockers that trade in sterile nü-metal crunch, leaving Lavigne's pop-punk spunk by the wayside. Her voice has grown sharper and more emotive, aided by gleaming overdubs and lithe Canadian elocution, but the character behind it sounds tortured out of her class.