THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 2004
By Sean Calhoun
Outside of Blink-182, I haven’t covered a lot of pop-punk yet on The Music Yearbook. That’s about to change in a big way, starting with this year’s first entry…
Under My Skin – Avril Lavigne
As popular (and radio-friendly) as pop punk became in the first half of the 2000s’ first decade, it never seemed like there was a lot of room for female artists in a genre ruled by the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, and others. One major exception was (and is) Fall Out Boy’s Fueled by Ramen labelmates, Paramore, fronted by Hayley Williams, while another, perhaps more unique, example is Avril Lavigne.
Early in her career, Lavigne stood out as one of the few solo singer-songwriters in the genre, and her first album, Let Go, quickly catapulted her onto the scene behind the strength of hits like “Sk8er Boi” and “Complicated.” Under My Skin, Lavigne’s sophomore effort, unfortunately features nothing as distinctive as these hits.
It becomes apparent early on that Under My Skin is a change in direction for Lavigne, featuring heavier and darker musical themes and a general departure from the sunny skater-punk aesthetic of Let Go. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work to her benefit, and songs like “Take Me Away” and “Slipped Away” bring to mind a bargain version of Evanescence’s Amy Lee (while “Bring Me To Life” is an absolutely ridiculous song, it stands out more than much of the music here).
In fact, even at her best, Lavigne on Under My Skin often lacks originality, mining the musical styles of more successful and established acts. “Don’t Tell Me” and “Fall To Pieces” bring to mind a slightly punk-ier Alanis Morissette, while “Who Knows” sounds like a Blink-182 b-side.
In fairness, there’s no denying Lavigne’s vocal talent. Her lines carry a lot of these songs (although they aren’t always able to overcome cheesy or just plain mediocre lyrics), and she’s got the Pop Punk Teen Angst formula down pat. “Nobody’s Home” is a genuine standout, and the Alanis-esque tracks are also solid.
In the end, however, there’s nothing particularly special here, just an album of pretty average and forgettable pop-punk tracks that fade into the background of what was a grossly oversaturated genre.
Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 5.5/10
One of the two artists featured in the next review will look very familiar to Music Yearbook readers; in fact, I just covered them in my last entry. However, the sheer inexplicability of this album’s existence meant that I couldn’t help but cover…
Collision Course – Jay-Z and Linkin Park
Where do I even begin with this album? While Jay-Z and Linkin Park were both household names in 2004, this matchup couldn’t have made a whole lot of sense back then and looks even more inexplicable now (especially given the career trajectories of the two artists going into the 2010s).
While both artists are given equal billing on the album art and tracklist, it becomes obvious pretty early on that this is Jay-Z’s show. He dominates each of the EP’s six tracks, as well as significantly outclassing Mike Shinoda) and largely turns Chester Bennington and the rest of Linkin Park into a glorified backing band.
The formula behind Collision Course is rather simple: each of the six tracks is a mashup between a Jay-Z track and a Linkin Park song (with the exception of the final track). Some of the combos work surprisingly well – “Numb/Encore” (easily the best part of the EP) manages to improve both songs, recasting it as an inspirational track in the vein of T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life”, while “Dirt Off Your Shoulder/Lying From You” probably does the best job at shoehorning Bennington’s vocals into what’s essentially a two-man rap track – but just as much of the album falls flat.
For example, the EP’s final track, “Points Of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer” quickly becomes a hot mess, starting with the indefensible decision to turn “99 Problems” into a rap-rock song and going downhill from there. Shinoda’s verses are bad, the sound mixing is bad, and the vocal placement is bad, and it left a sour taste in my mouth as I finished my initial listen.
In the end, I think that Collision Course was a pretty dumb idea that lucked into a couple of solid tracks. Since its release, it has somehow become the highest-selling EP ever, perhaps out of sheer curiosity (or a deluge of tongue-in-cheek irony purchases). If anything, it’s a monument to excess, a messy wedding of two big names with the cynical knowledge that commercial success was all but guaranteed.
Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 4.3/10