Gwen Stefani's solo career is what happens when the punk rock chick who is into loads of "eclectic" styles of music tries to make you dance. At times, her selection of tracks are on some quirk-by-numbers shit: while Pop Radio is accepting of many odd sounds, some weird samples of The Sound Of Music, yodeling, and serious low-end bassline are not really one of them. I can see the bassline and the percussion heavy drums of "Wind It Up" being ready for the clubs, but that yodeling nonsense? That's for the frat girl who's had one too many shots of Patron and should be in a taxi on her way to her bed. Yet, that's also how Gwen comes off...
Her days being the reluctant frontwoman of No Doubt seem to not even come to play with her solo musings. Her singles don't really rely on her singing as much as they focus more on her attitude and persona. Gone are the "Spiderwebs" and other tunes that tug at your soul and really speak to you, and now we get tracks like "Orange County Girl", with her sang-rap and a pretty cheesy beat behind it. Swizz Beatz recycles his current-craze of ill beats on "Now That You Got It", and it's like a flashy remake of his most popular sounds, coming off forced and forgettable. "Don't Get It Twisted" lets you know in the intro that this is "the most craziest shit ever", and goes from some pretty crazy electronic mastery to a, for the lack of a better word, shitty combination of fuzzy bass, Dance Hall-lite and borrowed come-ons - that "uh oh, uh oh" didn't work for Lumidee, what makes Gwen think she can get it off?
The rub is, when Gwen wants to, she can really write some amazing stuff. "Yummy" has her getting her sexy on after giving birth to her son recently. "Early Winter" is probably the closest to her past rumblings with No Doubt, taking that indie-rock, college radio circa '88 style of writing and sound. "Fluorescent" comes on like classic Funk, complete with a heavy kick and some freaky horns. This one takes it back, and lyrically it's sweet to boot, singing about how much she cannot believe she is still with this person she loves. The sad part is, she sounds like she jacked a Dirty South beat on the very next track ("Breakin' Up"), with eerie synths and handclaps trying to mask the fact that she cannot get her flow or lyrics to gel right over this track.
Looks, Gwen, we get it - your record collection is cooler than most kids, but just because you are influenced/inspired by many different forms of music, that does not automatically mean you can just put them on and breathe life into them. "Hollaback Girl", honestly, was kind of a fluke. If you didn't have that "B-A-N-A-N-A-S" chant in the track, I honestly doubt it would have gotten to be so big. That track, like many on this collection, sound so disjointed, or just recycled. "U Started It" sounds straight off Pharrell's In My Mind, which doesn't really say anything special. Your 80's cheese/R&B funk of "4 In The Morning" sounds too Madonna, not enough Gwen. As I stated earlier, tracks like "Yummy" work for a minute, but that's only because you use your voice at times as another part of the track. The "raps" from you and Funkmaster P grow tiring, and you guy strying to harmonize midway? Leave that shit on the cutting room floor.
At the end of the day, there's too much nonsense and pretension in this collection. You get the feeling that not only is Gwen not trying to get back to the No Doubt style of music, that she is trying to be this generation's culture-chameleon. Wearing new sounds like panties, she switches everything up so swiftly. The question is: why? Is she trying to hide the fact that, stripped down, her voice/writing doesn't really compete with some of the other females in the game right now? I mean, Fergie is doing that "white girl can't rap" shit to death, why does Gwen, who has been hailed for her chops and style a lot longer than Fergie has, have to travel down that same path? Take away the out-there production, and you're left with 12 tracks of tofu - bland and mundane substance, but given a splash of spice and cooked up in a different light, and you can make it taste like whatever you want. And for Gwen, this just isn't enough.
rock the dub gives The Sweet Escape a 5 out of 10. Some interesting ideas get lost in translation, and Gwen sounds like too many crappy artists to really be taken seriously.
Gwen Stefani's The Sweet Escape is in stores today. More info on Amazon.com; check out her official website for clips and other treats about Gwen.