AVRIL LAVIGNE The Best Damn Thing (Hed Artzi) Is it possible to dumb down when you're already playing it dumb? Avril Lavigne sure tries on The Best Damn Thing - an insufferable homage to...herself. It's just one of the many supremely annoying elements of her third album, underscoring the major problems the suburban pop-punk rocker faces - an age old rock & roll problem immortalized by Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins in the 1984 film This is Spinal Tap: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." Lavigne's first album - 2002's Let's Go - was definitely on the clever side - with innocuous but infectious spiky anthems like "Sk8er Boi" and "Complicated" exposing an endearing intentionally bratty mall pack persona - a persona that perfectly suited her 17-year-old window dressing punky spirit. That's why two years older - on 2004's Under My Skin Lavigne tried to present a more mature, sophisticated side. And guess what? The album tanked. So, now as a 22 year-old newlywed coming off a sophomore slump, she had a choice to either enter the adult world for good or attempt to reclaim her fading youth, and the multi-platinum status that goes with it. Her choice is exemplified by the opening track off the album and its first single "Girlfriend,"possibly the most one dimensional, banal song to become a hit since teen mall queen Tiffany ruled the roost. Most of the upbeat "punk-lite" material sound like it was created by inputting data into a computer program: target audience - 14 year old girls; required: guitars riffing but not too threatening, lyrics derived from a junior high girls' restroom makeup session, and music based on the same four chord pattern. Mix all together, and top with shrill, brash vocals. If it appeared that Lavigne was singing tongue in cheek, the self-absorbed lyrics touting herself as a gift to the world, would have some ironic charm. But there's no hint here that she's joking at all when she steals someone else's mate in "Girlfriend", boasts that she's "the best damn thing your eyes have ever seen" in the title song, or moans about the terrible day she's having because her cell phone is getting any reception in "Runaway". Saturday Night Live in its prime couldn't have come up with such biting satire of valley girl suburbia. What's saddest, ultimately, is that when Lavigne doesn't dumb down - like on the ballads "When You're Gone" and "Innocence", even though they don't hold a candle to Let's Go's "I'm With You", you can hear traces of the adult artist she could become if commercial considerations didn't reign paramount. But as for now, if she continues reverting back to adolescence. Plan on Lavigne's next album being big with the kindergarten set. BOWLING FOR SOUP Goes to the Movies (Hed Artzi) I'm not exactly sure why this 2005 release of outtakes by American power pop outfit Bowling for Soup is just seeing the light of day here now, especially when the band subsequently released another CD of new material - The Great Burrito Extortion Case. (Alright, it's clear these guys don't take themselves too seriously, which is part of their charm). In any event, Goes to the Movies is a fun romp through punked up version of TV and movie theme songs (the Jimmy Neutron theme, Sixties classic "Five O'Clock World" from The Drew Carey Show), as well as some well-chosen covers ("I Melt With You" by Modern English, "Sick of Myself" by Matthew Sweet). There's nothing cohesive about it besides the good natured humor, the fun harmonies and buzzsaw beats. Like The Ramones, Bowling For Soup know how to dumb down without sounding dumb - or mean spirited. Take note Avril.