Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Secret Life of Avril Lavigne's "Push"


     Tuesday was a very special day for me. It was the official release of Avril Lavigne's fourth studio album, Goodbye Lullaby.  My idol of 10 years had finally returned to her roots after a long hiatus.
     Now, I must admit, I was highly skeptical about this record. Sure, there was talk on the street that Avril would be going back to her old style with the new album, but the lead single, "What the Hell", was a bomb of a disappointment that left me dreading the rest. It's an obvious sell-out piece, trying to capture the semi 80's pop, square-sounding arrangements and chanted linear melodies a la Katy Perry and Ke$ha. That, and it's not the healing, epiphany-arousing beauty that Avril is capable of (to put it plainly, it's a song about being a slut). The fact that her label made her put this processed, preservative-filled piece of fast food on an otherwise organic and nourishing album is appalling to me. Alas, the pitfalls of the music industry.
     One of my favorite songs off Goodbye Lullaby is "Push" (others are "Wish You Were Here" and "Everybody Hurts"). "Push" is an extremely emotional and well-crafted song about what a waste it is when couples who truly love each other fight.
     When I discuss the secret life of "Push", I obviously can't know it like I know my own songs. For example, I don't know what sparked the idea, what section was written first, etc. But I can analyze it and tell you all why I think it is working and how we might be intuitively processing the very obvious craft here.
     One thing that makes this a grabbing song is how wonderfully quickly the chorus comes in. Many of Avril's old songs had a pre-chorus, which is absent here. This is part of the current aesthetic in pop music. When "Complicated" came out, which had a very long intro, double first verse, and pre-chorus, the aesthetic in pop was that the song would take you on a gradual journey and prepare you for the hook. This recipe has changed. The idea now is that the hook is everything, and the verses are only there because they have to be. And it's all about immediate changes now; nothing wants to happen gradually anymore. What better way to serve this aesthetic than to slam-dunk the listener right into the chorus without warning?
     Along with the absence of a pre-chorus, the verse has the illusion of whizzing by for another reason - there's no space in the melody. It's basically an ongoing list of thoughts; stream of consciousness. The anticipation is heightened even further by the lines in the verse all stopping (very briefly) mid-sentence, like so:

"Been seein' too much of you lately and you're
starting to get on my nerves this is
exactly what happened last time and it's
not what we deserve, it's a
waste of my time lately and I'm
running out of words..."

     If the lyrics had been laid out differently, the verses would not possess the impatience and uncontained energy that is the livelihood of this song.
     It's clear that a quick verse was a wise move when one hears the chorus. It's positively bursting with emotion. The first line, "Maybe you should just shut up" is delightfully bold and unrestrained, and what's more, these somewhat taboo words are chosen incredibly wisely and have never been better used in a song. She's not telling her boyfriend to shut up because he's annoying to listen to; it's much deeper. She's telling him to put a cork in it because he's risking ruining their relationship. And when she comes in with the line, she's drastically higher in her register and has a brattier tone to her voice. Your brain's subconscious translation: "Enter young woman arguing with her boyfriend." Fittingly, there is silence after the peacemaking line, "...cause this is love", a mid-point in the chorus which also marks the first time we hear real space. And then there's the literal sound of the words. Most pop choruses will rhyme more than one sound, but not this one. "Push" rhymes the "uh" sound for its entire duration - "Just shut up, tough, love, comes, shove, us, love." The consistency is refreshing, and the impact of the "uh" with all the rests gives the melody a percussive power.
     I haven't listened to the rest of the album enough yet to determine whether it has the staying power of her first two. I, for one, am still adjusting to this trend of purposeful clutter in pop music. For the most part, I'm not feeling the new lack of space. "Push", however, utilizes this technique so well and with such relevance to the lyrical content that I just may learn to like it.

- Jill <3