Let’s quickly set the record straight. This is not
a new No Doubt album with Gwen’s name solely attached. True, she is the front woman of No Doubt and it’s more than obvious that the band’s name is simply meant to understate that said fact. I mean, Gwen Stefani and Those Other Guys just isn’t quite as catchy. But No Doubt’s pop/rock/ska style is their style and a style that they’ve worked hard to perfect.
And even though it might’ve been feasibly easier for Gwen to just record that type of album and dub it a solo project, not to mention a commercially successful no-brainer, Gwen decided that her solo debut was going to be more indicative of her individual style. Thus she’s created a 80s mish-mash of synth-pop/rock/R&B/hip-hop/dance music that keeps you in rump-shaking mode from beginning till end. With Love.Angel.Music.Baby, Gwen Stefani sets out to prove that, while in No Doubt, the sum might be greater than the whole of its parts, solo, her part is greater than the sum of the whole.
The album’s 3 singles open up the record and although I hate the 1,2,3 single sequencing that so many albums follow, when each single increases in greatness, I don’t mind as much. Lead single, What You Waiting For?, took quite some time to grow on me. At first, the song was one big turn-off. I thought the punctuated new-wave production coupled with Stefani’s annoying schizophrenic vocals and the song’s scatterbrained lyrical scheme was too experimental and busy for its own good. But I think the hook was directed at me, asking what I was waiting for and to hurry up and like the dang record. Now I find all the irritating qualities creative and entertaining. Go figure.
On the other hand, 2nd single, Rich Girl, tickled my fancy instantly. Leave it up to Dr. Dre to take a song from Fiddler on the Roof and spin it into a pop record. Eve’s cameo is a bit brief and underwhelming but doesn’t diminish the song’s kitschy yet fun value.
However, Gwen sounds best as a intimidating, trash-talking B-Girl being backed up by the militant hip-hop stylings of the Neptunes on the irrepressible Hollaback Girl. Backed by a brigade of stamping feet and horns, Gwen sounds right at home proclaiming defeat to any and all opponents, infusing the right amount of attitude while demonstrating her versatility. Not to mention, it’s the catchiest thing on this record and will no doubt inspire motor-mouth sing-a-longs nationwide.
But as soon as this dance party is about to kick into high-gear, like a cool ocean wave crashing down on the shore, Cool comes on. With such a mellow and refreshing synth-pop/rock vibe, courtesy of Dallas Austin, it sounds like the best theme song never recorded for the best teen movie of the 80s never filmed, in which two bandmates reminisce over the years gone by and stand in awe at how even though they failed as lovers, they’ve remained lifelong pals. If only it all were as refreshingly simple as this record makes it sound.
Then we’re jolted right back onto our feet with the electrified bounce that is Bubble Pop Electric. And yes, it sounds like it sounds, which is a good thing. It’s an electronic mishmash of instruments whipped up into one vivacious orgy of sound that bubbles, pops, and electrifies. And it’s also the perfect way to describe a wild night in the backseat between Gwen and her date Johnny Vulture (a.k.a Andre 3000, the song’s producer). Either way, it’s sure to be the one sonic itch you can’t wait to scratch.
Gwen’s chameleonic tendencies get the best of her and she transforms herself into one convincing R&B diva with Luxurious. Such a testament to her versatility, Gwen rides that infamous “Between The Sheets” sample with the greatest of ease as she basks in the lap of her newfound luxury. Her voice seductively coquettish, this song just oozes with and understated sexiness that’s almost impossible to resist.
So savor this moment because it doesn’t last long and when it does end, we’re subjected to the horror that is Harajuku Girls. Gwen’s obsession with the Harajuku girls is FAR beyond obsessive and fetishistic but if I was a Harajuku girl, I’d be extremely offended for someone who claims to be such a fan of mine to dedicate such a horrid song to me. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis extremely disappointed me by giving Gwen such a cheap backdrop to place her convulsive vocals over. Her Japanese-accented affected vocals don’t work at all and this 4:47 work of pretentious, self-indulgent would be completely unforgivable were the rest of the record not so damn good.
Crash is the best song Salt-N-Pepa never recorded. Or at least that’s what everyone I know thinks. From the skittering 808s to the blaring synth-keyboard lines, this track just screams “Push It.” Gwen’s forward lyrics and saucy vocals makes this one irrepressible.
Gwen then mellows back out and seems to borrow a page from Madge’s book on The Real Thing. With an opening eerily similar to “Ray of Light”, this mellowed out pop tune is about as close to mainstream pop as the album gets. This might explain why Gwen’s ode to her hubby is a tad boring. The production seems to find its mellow groove and plod and the overall record sounds a little too mellow and commonplace for this record.
Things however pick back up with both Serious and Danger Zone. The former sounds like a great 80s pop-synth song that I can’t pinpoint to save my life, which irritates me but still doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. The latter has more of a lighthearted dark edge to it that wouldn’t sound out of place in a campy, satirical horror flick. It also has a unique concept about entering the dreaded “danger zone” with your significant other. May not necessarily be original but it’s a creative concept that makes the song even more engaging.
However, Gwen truly saved the best for last as the song hits it’s creative climax and goes out in style with the offbeat duet between herself and Andre 3000 entitled A Long Way To Go. Imagine “Hey Ya!” meets “Millionaire” sent into a mellow overdrive and you have the song’s kinetic and wacky sound. But the main focus is on the lyricism and not oft-touched upon subject of “snow hitting the asphalt.”
Just the fact that Gwen and Andre touched upon the subject of interracial dating, and ingeniously looping a sample of MLK’s “I Have A Dream”, not to mention the wacky sounds, is what makes this record so creative and clever and brings the perfect, kaleidoscopic end, winding down this party flawlessly.
Some have made the claim that Gwen Stefani is all style, no substance and that the only reason she’s so popular is because she’s just like applesauce, turkey, and bald eagles; American. And even if that’s the case, it probably makes her more endearing. She has the ability to appear larger than life while down to earth at the same time and the simple fact that she can be so entertaining and enjoyable and contagious without breaking a sweat makes her that much more enjoyable.
If she’s mindless entertainment, so be it because we all need a little mindless fun once in a while. But I feel her music is feel-good and infectious but has an understated amount of dexterity and skill placed behind back. It had to take a genius mind to create such a cohesive and near-flawless dance record. The sum of No Doubt may be greater than the whole of Gwen Stefani but Love.Angel.Music.Baby proves one thing true: she’s not a stupid hoe!