The merger of rock or dance-pop with show tunes is never a good
thing, and Gwen Stefani has a habit of leaning on the most annoying
The nadir of Stefani's generally awful debut solo album, "Love,
Angel, Music, Baby" (2004), came on "Rich Girl," which rewrote "If I
Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof." On the follow-up, "The
Sweet Escape," the platinum-blond singer turns to an even more
horrible, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard ditty.
"Wind It Up" finds Stefani continuing her Kewpie doll coquette
routine -- "They like the way we dance, they like the way we work
/ They like that way that L.A.M.B. is going across my shirt,"
she trills, slipping in a bit of product placement for her designer
fashion line, L.A.M.B. -- over samples of "The Lonely Goatherd" from
"The Sound of Music." You know: "High on the hill was a lonely
goatherd/ Lay-od-lay-od-lay-he- hoo /... She yodeled back to the
No, it's not as bad as it sounds. It's even worse. But it really
doesn't matter: To date, Stefani has sold 26 million albums
worldwide with her ska-pop band No Doubt (which she insists is a
going concern). She racked up sales of another 7 million for her
first solo effort, and "The Sweet Escape" arrives in stores Tuesday
as one of the music industry's most eagerly anticipated releases of
the busy Christmas shopping season.
"I never intended to do another solo record," Stefani recently
told Australia's Daily Telegraph. "[But] I had a couple of amazing
leftover tracks from the last one. ... The last one was a total
dance record: not serious, very light. This one is way different.
The inspiration for this one is 'it doesn't have a direction,'
making it very modern."
Well, that's one way to put it. The other is that Stefani and her
top-dollar producers -- among them Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo
of the Neptunes, who had almost redeemed their dreadful output of
late with the new Clipse album; No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal; Nellee
Hooper and Swizz Beatz -- didn't miss a chance to pander to anyone.
Thus, we have the aforementioned pseudo-show tune; lame ballads ("In
the Morning," "U Started It"); a hidden track with a bullfighter
vibe and some synth-driven mope-rock in the form of "Wonderful
Life," which features a cameo from a master of the genre, Martin
Gore of Depeche Mode.
The album isn't nearly as diverse as Stefani promised, however.
For the most part, her vocals continue to sound like Madonna during
her early helium-warble years, while the backing tracks are largely
generic, overly polished, soulless and mechanical dance grooves. "This
sounds like disco Tetris," Stefani chirps in "Yummy," and that
may be the best and most concise review anyone could give this
"Yummy" also includes another of the disc's numerous plugs for
L.A.M.B., as well as an apology for making fans wait all of two
years for her second solo release: "I know you've been waiting,
but I've been out making babies," Stefani coos, and that points
to the disc's most troubling flaw.
Stefani is now a 37-year-old mom -- she and former Bush
bandleader Gavin Rossdale gave birth to son Kingston in May -- with
increasingly distant but nonetheless genuine roots in punk. Yet
instead of exploring either of these legitimate identities in her
lyrics, which would be both more honest and more interesting, she
persists in playing the role of pre-teen mall-rat Lolita so
ubiquitous during the late '90s bubblegum-pop boom.
Even Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have gotten tired of
that act, and it sounds even more ridiculous, played-out and
pathetic coming from Stefani, who continues to insist she's just an
"Orange County Girl." The routine falls apart, however, when the
singer who grew up in the shadows of Disneyland strays from her "I'm
just like you" pre-teen posing -- "A lot of things have changed,
but I'm mostly the same.../You know I'd pay you just to let me run,
dance and sing / I know I'm living the 'E ticket' dream" -- to
indulge in self-congratulatory hype and a little more
"Still rollin' 'cause 'The Sound of Music'/I'm nothing better
than a great big huge hit," Stefani boasts in the same song. "Pharrell
on repeat, make a hurricane in Miami/Working with him, I'm gonna get
myself another Grammy/I got the L.A.M.B., and he's rocking the ice
creams/Blend it together, something fresh and kinda in-between."
Sorry, Gwen, but this album is about as appealing as a puddle of
melted Rocky Road. And if you doubt it, you can just go