Gwen Stefani hollas back onto the pop scene

by Beacon Staff • December 6, 2006

However, the resulting album cannot escape the dreaded sophomore slump, which is a shame as poor little Kingston Rossdale deserved a better introduction to Mom's music.,Maybe it's unfair to criticize Gwen Stefani right now: the former No Doubt singer came off her sprawling Harajuku Girls tour, gave birth to a son and months later regained her pre-preggers figure and just released The Sweet Escape on Tuesday.

However, the resulting album cannot escape the dreaded sophomore slump, which is a shame as poor little Kingston Rossdale deserved a better introduction to Mom's music.

Often, artists are chastised for straying too far from their original sound on the second LP-witness the disappointing Sam's Town from The Killers. Stefani's problem: she's gotten lazy, relying on old tricks instead of pursuing an extension of her trademark.

The Sweet Escape's first single, "Wind It Up," follows the formula that made Love Angel Music Baby's equally asinine "Rich Girl" a pop chart smash: bastardize a number from a popular Broadway musical (The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof, respectively) and get Pharrell in the studio to twist the knobs. In the case of "Wind It Up," the droning beat isn't enhanced by trite self-promoting lyrics such as "[boys] like the we dance, they like the way we work / they like that way that L.A.M.B. is going across my shirt."

To Stefani's credit, recent years have proved that innovation is entirely unnecessary for Top 200 success and her first album has inspired some imitators: with some help from fellow Black Eyed Pea will.i.am, Fergie has been making "London Bridges" drop onto dance floors across the country and Nelly Furtado teamed up with current It producer Timbaland for her self-proclaimed "musically promiscuous" album Loose.

But Stefani's sound adventures aren't particularly successful. The problem is that her voice isn't strong enough to provide a continuity between the distinctive sound of her producers. Much as L.A.M.B.'s "The Real Thing," featuring members of New Order, sounded like a pale knock-off of "True Faith," so "Early Winter," co-written and performed by Keane keyman Tim Rice-Oxley, sounds like a tepid B-side from that band.

She relies too heavily on the percussive beats that Pharrell drafts, but after the lukewarm reception to his solo album In My Mind and the mediocre tracks here, it appears the Neptune is spinning out of his hit orbit. Likewise, Stefani's former boyfriend and bandmate Tony Kanal's uninspired songs-particularly the Reggaeton-flavored "Don't Get It Twisted"-prove that collaborations between the two outside of No Doubt are unnecessary.

Stefani should, however, scribe more songs with Linda Perry, who produced the highlight of L.A.M.B., "What You Waiting For?" The closing Perry-penned number, "Wonderful Life," is the best thing about The Sweet Escape, partially because the electro-pop compliments Stefani's voice well, but mostly because it signals the end of the album.,Bryan O'Toole