Release year: 2016
I had no intention of reviewing this album. It’s not because I don’t like Gwen Stefani. I’m actually a fan of her work both in No Doubt and solo. Even though I didn’t care for her 2006 release The Sweet Escape, I was still excited to hear her new material after a ten year absence. My plan was to listen to the album and just enjoy it. But when I put it on I was so confused, shocked, and appalled I just had to talk about it. So was it worth waiting so long for new Stefani material? Well…
This is another case of an album that’s overwhelming just okay. There’s only a handful of good songs I can stand to listen to again. The opening track “Misery” manages to be catchy despite its recycled pseudo tropical beats and generic pop music format. Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard pop song exploring Stefani’s recent divorce from ex-Gavin Rossdale. The next track “You’re My Favorite” is a bit better with its cool hip hop/electronic infused music. The only problem is it sounds like something that could’ve been on Madonna’s last album. Stefani has always been compared to the Material Girl , but here those comparisons seem to be justified. Aside from this the song will get stuck in your head with its simple hook and slick style.
From there the rest of the album is a carbon copy of current pop music trends. Just about all of the songs continue with the hip hop/electronic infusion introduced on the first few songs. The only time it really changes is on what is probably the strongest track “Used to Love You.” This constant repetition makes songs like “Rare,” “Send Me a Picture,” and “Truth” dull and uninteresting. The worst offense comes in the last few songs where Stefani amps up the hip hop vibe by rapping. Yes, it’s fucking terrible. When I first heard “Red Flag” I exclaimed out loud in my empty apartment “What the shit?” Suddenly, the album shifted gears for the worse. Stefani sounds like someone whose trying to prove how cool they are by laying down some rhymes. And it’s awful. It’s like she wanted to recreate the hip hop vibe of “Luxurious” but failed miserably.
With the heavy thumping beats and Fetty Wap’s drunken vocals “Asking 4 It” doesn’t sound anything like a Gwen Stefani song. And it’s not a good thing. Similar to the previous track, this one is bland and so unlike her. It doesn’t even seem like it fits the album. And the ridiculous song “Naughty” isn’t any better. This is yet another track where Stefani tries going hip hop. Though it’s more playful and focused than “Red Flag” it falls apart at the chorus where she begins to sound like Nicki Minaj. To make things worse you have to uncomfortably sit through Stefani’s lifeless moans during the hook. Maybe she was going for the ridiculous with this track, but I personally found it off putting.
It seems the problem with this album is Stefani trying to retain her cool alt girl title that she had while in No Doubt. In that context it made sense. Her vocals were unconventional, she didn’t look like your average singer at the time, and the band infused ska with punk, rock, and pop to get their sound. But once Stefani branched out her own, the title was lost. She was just another mainstream artist with songs that got stuck in your head easily. With so many of these songs it seems like she’s trying to show the world she’s still edgy and unique when it’s pretty clear she’s not. And that’s fine if she would just own up to it. She even tries to reach “Hollaback Girl” status on the track “Where Would I Be?” during the bridge featuring cheerleader-esque chanting. It’s like she’s trying to win back the alt crowd that followed her during the No Doubt days, when they’ve most likely moved on.
While there are some definite hits on the album that’ll climb the charts, but the record as a whole is pretty weak. Many of the songs sound the same and most of them follow current trends making them sound generic and familiar. Even though the rap songs were horrible, I commend Stefani on trying to keep listeners on their toes and trying to branch out. It’s just in this case the results led to bland , forgettable songs and an album that’s nowhere near a strong or original as her debut.