Story by Nick Erickson, Staff writer
Gwen Stefani was the pop sensation of the early 2000s. Once upon a time, her hit “Hollaback Girl” was a staple track for every radio station in the country. More recently, Stefani had stepped back from the spotlight, lying dormant from music and embracing her motherhood. Surprisingly, she reemerged last month with “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” her first solo album in a decade, via Interscope Records. To the distaste of some and the joy of many others, not much has changed on this album from her past releases. The same sugary, over-produced pop she was praised for years ago is ever present, as is the high school freshman persona she gives off, despite being a 47-year-old woman.
Stefani has proclaimed in recent interviews that “This Is What the Truth Feels Like” is largely a “breakup” record. Her recent divorce with Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale, which was finalized last October, drove her inspiration for the record and eased her writer’s block.
However, this record is anything but sultry. While it tackles the breakup, Stefani has a positive vibe throughout the record, and instead of feeling melancholic, focuses on the future of a new relationship and moving onward. This motive is drowned out in rather stale production, masking most of the emotion Stefani is trying to convey in the candy-coated pop instrumentation.
Opening the album is “Misery,” which ironically feels the opposite of miserable, containing upbeat disco-influenced beats. Stefani’s smooth voice sings of romantic tension and longing. “So put me out of my misery, hurry up come see me,” Stefani says. The repetitious nature of this song will leave it stuck in listeners’ heads, but the lack of lyrical diversity can be annoying. Nonetheless, its sweet, cheery feel is as pop as it gets, and the bassline will induce head-nodding.
“Where Would I Be” takes some reggae-influence and gives it a Stefani twist. From the get-go it could very well be a 1920s flapper track. Despite this, Stefani’s lyricism feels watered-down and cliché, as she sings to a boy she feels gives her purpose. “Where would I be boy, if you didn’t love me boy?”
“Make Me Like You” kicks off with punchy guitar strums, and an undoubtedly infectious vocal hook. This track draws in the feeling of a late 70s disco anthem, with Stefani repeating phrases over a dance beat. This track, as most others on the album, screams “high school prom playlist.” The repetition isn’t enough to make the track very memorable, and by the third chorus, it’s all too forgettable.
“Send Me A Picture” is almost an uncomfortable listen in context. Stefani sings of sexting, and how she is longing for pictures from an unspecified lover. “Send me a picture right now cause I been waiting such a long time to get you right in front of these eyes,” Stefani sings. As previously mentioned, Stefani is a middle-aged woman nearing 50, and this song simply doesn’t seem like something people her age deal with, and it’s as far away from the “breakup” theme as she could get.
On a lighter note, the album closer “Rare” lives up to its name as it’s the most stripped-down track on the record. It is simply Stefani, backed by an acoustic guitar and a beat. It’s still very-much radio pop, but there seems to be more heart in this one. Stefani sings of how special her lover is, and how she treasures those unique qualities.
“You’re rare, and I’m loving every second of it, don’t you know?” Stefani cries out. “You’re rare, and only a stupid girl would let you go.” This track is ultimately the highlight out of the album’s 12 tracks.
One can admire Stefani for getting back into the music scene. As much as one could respect her art, it just doesn’t feel as genuine as she might want to come across. “This Is What the Truth Feels Like” might be pushed by Stefani as the testament to her breakup, but it feels more like she’s a 16-year-old girl living in a 47-year-old woman’s body. The music is catchy, as most studio-assembled pop music is, but instead of channeling her divorce into emotional music, it feels insincere and all too bubbly. Perhaps she should have stayed in 2004.