After a five-year hiatus, Avril Lavigne is back. The French-Canadian hitmaker, who defined teendom in the mid-2000s with her signature pop-rock angst—it’s complicated, okay?—released the first single, “Head Above Water,” to her forthcoming album earlier this afternoon.
The song is a fierce piano ballad that documents a culminating moment in Lavigne’s years-long struggle with Lyme disease. “Thank you for waiting so patiently as I fought through and still continue to fight the battle of my lifetime,” she wrote in a letter to her fans. “One night, I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die. My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, ‘God, please help to keep my head above the water.’ In that moment, the songwriting of this album began. It was like I was tapped into something . . . Lyrics flooded through me from that point on.”
In what she describes as a “spiritual experience,” the song offers a gentle piano melody that moves gradually into heavy orchestration. Musically, it’s reminiscent of alternative rock bands like the Goo Goo Dolls, and Lavigne’s own 2002 track “I’m With You,” which featured a memorable cello solo—a reminder that it is nice, when much of music is made on computers these days, to hear real instruments again.
At the same time, it’s a rude awakening that, for Lavigne, things have changed, and not for the better. Whereas bopping along to whatever superficial drama she had to offer was once a fun, slightly indulgent after-school activity, hearing about her near-death experience is decidedly not. She is candid about the precarious space she occupies in the face of the incurable disease: “Yeah my life is what I’m fighting for / Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore / And my voice becomes the driving force / I won’t let this pull me overboard.” Things may get better. They may not.
Lavigne notes that the decision to release this song as her first single is intentional and in the spirit of a kind of rebirth that will play out in the rest of her album. Along with the posting of the song, she also linked her fans to a charitable T-shirt campaign run by her foundation, the proceeds of which will go to individuals affected by Lyme disease who aren’t able to afford their own treatment.
Listen to the new song, below:
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