Avril Lavigne

The Best Damn Thing

RCA Records Grade: C

With The Best Damn Thing topping the charts in its first week, Avril Lavigne’s pact with the devil continues to look like a hell of a deal. Whereas last time the Canuck tried to shed her zero-cred teen-pop image by enlisting rock producer Butch Walker, she is now back to the business of making overly produced bubblegum anthems. When it works — the head-bouncing, near-Go Go’s fun of “Girlfriend” — it is undeniably catchy, but when it fails — “Best Damn Thing,” another “Hollaback Girl” rip-off — it is unbearable. Still, in a world of demeaning female MTV staples like the Pussycat Dolls and Fergie, at least Avril is a half-decent role model to tween girls.

Download: “Girlfriend,” “The Best Damn Thing”

Hot Rod Circuit

The Underground

Is A Dying Breed

Immortal Records

Grade: B

When emo broke at the turn of the century, Hot Rod Circuit was a front-runner for world domination. Unfortunately, its last album, 2004’s Reality’s Coming Through was bland and forgettable. While it does not match the sheer genius of the group’s first three records, The Underground Is a Dying Breed finds the band back in solid form. Tracks such as “Stateside” and “Battleship” rage with churning, catchy guitar riffs, and singer Andrew Jackson — unlike his more successful contemporaries — still manages to write emotional but somehow not-cheesy lyrics about troubled relationships that drip with actual experience. It’s a welcome return for a band that deserves a lot more credit.

Download: “Stateside,” “U.S. Royalty”

Kirsteen Young

The Orphans

Test Tube

Baby Records

Grade: F

Originally from St. Louis, operatic singer Kirsteen Young released a terrible debut record in the late ’90s. Both the album and the label that released it bombed. The label folded, but she didn’t. Young relocated to New York City and now finds herself the toast of the hipster wasteland, gaining fans in legends like Morrissey and David Bowie. Normally there is something substantial to all the hype and celebrity endorsements, but this is the kind of pseudo-intellectual schlock people pretend to like because Spin tells them to. Young would have been wise to take her own sage advice in the album’s closer: “Please hold your tongue/Your thoughts are so dumb.”

Download: “Kill The Father,” “Before”