The Sweet Escape
7.5 out of 10
By Norman Mayers
Gwen Stefani has always been something of a music industry oddity. Rising to fame with her Southern California band No Doubt she became the face of a generation. No Doubt’s ska-pop sounds were just one part of Gwen’s repertoire as she re-invented herself as a fly white chick by hooking up with rapper Eve a few years back. With her solo debut, 2004’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby, Gwen further stretched her artistic muscle by referencing 80s pop sounds and Japanese fashion. L.A.M.B. wasn’t exactly the most consistent album even though it produced the monster hit “Hollaback Girl”. With The Sweet Escape, Stefani gets her schizophrenia in check and delivers a mostly streamlined set of bass heavy hip-hop cuts sprinkled with pop lyrics and soaring retro-flavored anthems. Although it’s far from perfect, The Sweet Escape is a far more enjoyable listen than Stefani’s debut and is destined to spawn another massive Hollaback single.
A part of what makes Stefani’s sophomore solo release a bit more accessible is the indelible stamp of the Neptunes. As the producers of “Hollaback Girl” it was inevitable that they be the main contributors to this album. Luckily, Stefani and the Neptunes do make an exciting team. The collaboration produces some of the Neptunes’ most adventurous work in years such as the mildly annoying yet entertaining lead single “Wind It Up” and the playful “Yummy”, which ends with a bizarre voyage into a mechanic’s shop (listen to the track and you will know what I mean). The Neptunes also pull the most radio-ready singles out of Gwen. The 808 heavy “Orange County Girl” could be the new California anthem while tracks like “U Started It” and bonus track “Candyland” are among the best on the album. However, it’s Swizz Beatz who comes up with the most likely heir to the Hollaback crown with the bumping chants and boasting raps of “Now That You Got It”.
But Gwen Stefani is more than just a rapping white girl. Many of the album’s highlights are the softer ones. Cuts like “Early Winter” and “4 In The Morning” soar thanks to Stefani’s girlish vocals and brilliant hooks that reference iconic moments from Madonna and Tears for Fears. There are places where things don’t quite click such as on the musical train wreck “Don’t Get It Twisted” and the Gogos inspired title track. Neither track has a clear direction, simply throwing a million sounds into a pot with pretty dismal results.
Gwen Stefani will probably always remain one of those artists that projects style over substance, yet she continues to make some of the most interesting music in pop. Very few artists in the mainstream can hope to produce an album as wonderfully weird as The Sweet Escape.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006