Avril Lavigne wanders in ‘Wonderland’

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Are you ready for a trip down the rabbit hole? Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Disney are adding a strange new chapter to the Lewis Carroll classic with their ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ a film that presents a young woman who finds herself in the world of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. She is welcomed as a returning visitor -- but is she, in fact, the same Alice who roamed the trippy realm as a child? Time will tell. Here at the Hero Complex, we’re counting down to the film’s March 5 release with daily coverage.

Today, Todd Martens from the Pop & Hiss blog visits with a review of that new ‘Wonderland’ sound...

Overview: Straight down the rabbit hole to your local mall. Inspired, no doubt, by the success of the soundtracks to the two ‘Twilight’ films, Disney has lined up an array of chart-topping artists for its upcoming ‘Alice in Wonderland’ -- sort of. Two albums will be released on March 5, one featuring Danny Elfman’s original score for the film, and one entitled ‘Almost Alice,’ which contains 16 songs inspired by the classic story. There’s veteran, respected artists, such as the Cure’s Robert Smith, and up-and-comer club kids, including 3OH!3 with Ke$ha’s pal Neon Hitch. Only the leadoff cut, Avril Lavigne’s directly titled ‘Alice,’ will be heard in the film, gracing the feature’s end credits.


The latest: A video for Lavigne’s song made its debut online this week, featuring the spunky Canadian pop star in the role of Alice. In the video’s opening moment, she trades a raggedy T-shirt and black tights for a satin dress paired with white, heart-speckled leggings. Lavinge’s fantasy universe comes complete with a piano, giant shrooms and a dinner date with Johnny Depp‘s Mad Hatter. It’s a world, as EW beat us to noting, that looks not too unlike the one inhabited by Paramore in their video for ‘Brick by Boring Brick.’

The good news: The singer has done soundtrack work before, and had a smash with her ‘Keep Holding On’ from ‘Eragon.’ Thankfully, Lavinge’s second turn with a fantasy film number avoids the prom theme-like trappings of that one. Here, she’s again working with one of her regular collaborators, paired with versatile producer Butch Walker. With ‘Alice,’ they have a song that fits in with the darker, more angsty vision Lavigne and Walker cultivated on Lavinge’s 2004 album, ‘Under My Skin.’

That’s a good thing. Lavigne’s last album, 2007’s ‘The Best Damn Thing,’ saw her moving slightly away from her rock ‘n’ roll image, and veering dangerously close to a flavor-of-the-month pop star. For the cheerleading anthem of ‘Girlfriend,’ she worked with hot producer Dr. Luke, and though it gave her a radio-ready hit, it hinted that Lavigne was less interested in exploring the emotions and atmospheres of ‘Under My Skin.’

‘Alice’ starts extremely promising, with wavy synths caught somewhere between a nightmare and a dream. It’s a brief overture, soon giving away to more direct (yet ominous) deep-piano notes. Lavigne’s voice eases into stark piano-and-drums opening by hitching a ride on a bass line. ‘Tripping out, spinning down,’ Lavigne sings, but she sounds rather calm. That doesn’t last for long, as Lavigne switches to her outdoor voice on the second verse, and what started out as a rather minimalist song is soon overtaken by Lavigne’s ability to holler.

The not-as-exciting: When the song nears its halfway point, Lavigne sings, ‘I found myself in Wonderland.’ All the music cuts out, and Lavigne is backed only by a piano and an echo. ‘Is this real?’ she wonders, yet the listener never really gets a picture of the trippy world Lavigne has found herself in.

She’s fallen, she’s down, she’s hit the ground and she’s not going to cry, Lavigne belts over and over, sounding more like a narrator rather than someone conveying an experience. Tim Burton has created a psychedelic visual universe, and the weirdness of the song’s opening moments hinted that Lavigne was ready to tackle it. But by the time it’s wrapped, ‘Alice’ amounts to little more than some shouted lines of resilience. Worse, it lacks a hook, and seems unsure whether it wants to wander in atmosphere or lunge for a big chorus.

But you should judge for yourself. Watch the video below:

And wait, there’s more: You can hear snippets of most of the 16 tracks on ‘Almost Alice’ on the official ‘Alice in Wonderland’ website.

--Todd Martens


POP&HISS: Read more L.A. Times music coverage

‘Alice in Wonderland’ as silent film, musical and ... porn?

Mia Wasikowska on Depp: ‘He’s so brave and smart’

Johnny Depp picks his poison for ‘Alice’

‘Alice’ star says ‘Wonderland’ is a sequel, not remake

Burton says ‘Alice’ has a ‘national treasure’ in actress Windsor

Burton and stars will be at ‘Alice’ fan event in L.A. on Feb. 19

Meet Bloodhound, a newcomer to Wonderland

‘Alice’ screenwriter is ready for the haters

Red Queen = Leona Helmsley? Maybe so, says Burton

Burton took a ‘Shining’ to Tweedledee and Tweedledum

PHOTO: Top, a scene from Avril Lavigne’s ‘Alice’ video. (Buena Vista Records)