Arts, Music

Stefani’s Odd Album Entertains, Preserves Signature Sound

3 Stars

“I feel so weird right now,” Gwen Stefani said at the end of a Nov. 2015 interview, suddenly breaking her cool and confident demeanor with a nervous glance around the room. Sitting opposite radio host Ryan Seacrest, the pop singer fidgeted anxiously with her tangled, layered necklaces. “I feel nervous, like I said too much. I feel like I wanna throw up.”

She does a whole lot of this on her new album—feeling, that is. Stefani feels deeply, and, as evidenced by her characteristically unapologetically honest lyrics which have survived her solo career’s decade-long hiatus, she’s never been one to hide it.

Though she was only referring to their intimate interview, in which she provided a detailed account of her harrowing divorce and other personal struggles, Stefani’s sentiments about having revealed too much could easily be applied to the pop princess’ new, emotion-heavy LP This Is What the Truth Feels Like. The 12-track collection is a narrative about toxic love gone very wrong, and the transition into a new romance done right. It’s an intimate conversation with millions of fans, an unabashed admittance of vulnerability in musical form. Simply stated, the tell-all album is Stefani’s raw inner turmoil available for purchase on iTunes.

The album’s fluctuation from sarcasm to elation and back again reinforces the notion of relationships as a baffling mobius strip of conflicting feelings. Telling the all-too-complicated tale of her tumultuous split with Gavin Rossdale and subsequent relationship with country star Blake Shelton, This Is What the Truth Feels Like feels overwhelmingly optimistic.

The new album is astoundingly similar to her previous releases (both as a solo pop artist and lead vocalist of American rock band No Doubt), complete with all the bells and whistles expected from Stefani—literally. Most of Stefani’s background instrumentals, though clearly influenced by the pop realm’s reliance on bass-drops and over-produced synth in today’s hit songs, sound like they could have come straight off Sweet Escape Stefani’s widely popular 2006 release.

Many tracks on the new album are surefire chart-toppers. “You’re My Favorite” and the punchy “Make Me Like You” are speckled with all those aforementioned bells and whistles—familiar airy xylophone tones and the occasional sound of a whimsical slide whistle. Though a clunky melange of musical instruments, these songs are more intriguing than annoying, and the use of quirky instruments reinforces Stefani’s propensity for taking risks. As usual for the singer, who throws caution to the wind by including musical oddities that could potentially ruin a track if not employed imaginatively, the unconventional elements strewn throughout the songs pay off.

As expected, her familiar vocals are breathy and atmospheric one moment, but powerfully shrill the next. Her sultry tone in “Send Me A Picture” gives way to the jarringly punchy refrain. The catchy song is Stefani’s stab at flirting in the digital age, yet the lyrical subject matter does little to persuade listeners that her sound and style have changed at all since her early-2000s heyday.

Unfortunately for the 46-year-old popstar, not all of her new tracks are lyrical or musical home runs. The repetitive “Asking 4 It” featuring Fetty Wap sounds as silly as its use of the digit “4” in place of the three-letter word. “Naughty” is a whiny, immature, and awkward attempt at seduction, complete with cringe-worthy moans and botched bass drops thrown in periodically for good measure.

From start to finish, the album is choppy, messy, and difficult to consume. Oddly enough, however, Stefani’s lack of fluidity or melodic continuity from one song to the next works really well in some parts. The new album feels like Stefani hasn’t changed all that much since her debut in the late ’80s. It feels familiar, but rejuvenated in a way. This Is What the Truth Feels Like is an entertaining roller-coaster ride to emotional recovery—and it feels good.

Featured Image By Interscope Records

March 21, 2016