Release Date: December 5th, 2006
Label: Interscope Records
Gwen Stefani has the potential to become this generation's most relevant female artist. Able to shift effortlessly between new wave rocker, sassy urban party-starter, and pop temptress, she has something for everybody. It's a shame that on her new album, instead of truly embracing this kaleidoscope of possible pop crossover, she too often comes off as a hapless, hip hop moron.
Fundamentally, The Sweet Escape is a collection of castoffs from Stefani's earlier album, L.A.M.B., and most of the time that's exactly what it sounds like. Too much of the material (Orange County Girl, Fluorescent) is simply too slight and unmemorable to make a mark. It simply passes by. More worrisome is a pair of tracks: Now That You Got It and Breakin' Up. Far from being unmemorable, they are truly unbearable. The latter, if combined with Beyonce's Ring The Alarm tirade, would surely win the award for the shrillest, most obnoxious seven minutes recorded this year. It's a shame, too, because while most of The Sweet Escape is alarmingly tepid, the record does contain one of Stefani's best solo songs to date. Early Winter, co-written with Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley, is a soaring 80's-flavored ballad. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like Gwen fronting Keane. What is surprising, though, is what a flawless match it is. Similarly, bookends Wind It Up and Yummy are two of the (too) many hip-hop tracks that actually work, due in part to their spare experimentalism. Wind It Up mixes the baffling combination of showtunes and rap, while Yummy utilizes bhangra influences and a ridiculously infectious hook to great effect.
Sadly, it's far too little to bolster the album. While there are momentary highlights (Wonderful Life and the title track also deserve a mention), the record is far too clumsy and dull. Compared to this, L.A.M.B. is an absolute masterpiece. There are multiple tracks on The Sweet Escape where Stefani repeats endlessly that "this is the craziest shit ever." How about this, Gwen? Instead of constantly reminding us, why don't you actually show us? C
Key Tracks: Early Winter, Yummy, Wonderful Life