Gwen Stefani – Love.Angel.Music.Baby Review

Gwen Stefani – Love.Angel.Music.Baby
Interscope, 2004

1. What You Waiting For?
2. Rich Girl
3. Hollaback Girl
4. Cool
5. Bubble Pop Electric
6. Luxurious
7. Harajuku Girls
8. Crash
9. The Real Thing
10. Serious
11. Danger Zone
12. Long Way to Go
13. The Real Thing (Bonus)

Better known as the voice of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani has always been easily recognizable with her quirky tone, violently strong vibrato, and one serious attitude. While the band has changed drastically from the success of Tragic Kingdom — evolving from a ska base through mundane pop and into a techno/electronic realm — it was a mystery as to what part of No Doubt that Gwen would be taking with her when it was announced that she was striking out on her own.

The first single, “What You Waiting For?”, cleared up any guesses: the girl was hopelessly into a kitsch electro-pop sound. Some claimed that she was trying to pull a Madonna makeover, while others simply shot her down entirely as turning into a generic pop drone. The lyrics weren’t helping her case any, as she sang about little more than the exciting world of going solo. Can’t we all relate to that one? Clearly, this wasn’t going to be the rebirth of classic No Doubt.

As far as the pop is concerned, oh yes; Love.Angel.Music.Baby has enough pop to propel a small child into the stratosphere. In fact, it might be fair to say that there’s enough pop to put the entire decade of the 1980s to shame. Whether the point of the album was to recreate every conceivable type of ’80s pop tune in a modern form or not, that’s certainly what appears on this disc, 14 years after the fact. There are cheesy synths galore, ridiculously jumpy beats, and reminiscences as if Ms. Stefani regressed to freshman year of high school à la Toni Basil’s “Mickey.”

It doesn’t start out that way. The album kicks off with the first single and is followed by “Rich Girl,” a track featuring previous collaborator Eve, offering your requisite song about cash flow. After that, however, things just go all crazy spastic in a manner which can hardly be explained.

Some of the utterly insane highlights include “Hollaback Girl,” an odd ditty with a “We Will Rock You” type backbeat and little melody; this is accompanied with Stefani repeatedly cooing, “Oooh, this mah shit, this mah shit.” It’s nearly impossible to discern what this nonsense might actually mean, and it only gets stranger as she begins to chant, “This shit is bananas/B-A-N-A-N-A-S.” Bananas, indeed. Another strange foray is “Bubble Pop Electric,” a strange piece of storytelling with a frenetic beat that follows Stefani on a fictional date of some sort, singing about gettin’ down in the backseat of the car at the drive-in theater. However, the coup de grace of this madness is “Harajuku Girls,” an entire song about how cute the Japanese females dress. Random japanese phrases are babbled throughout, and the listener is given a lesson that yes, indeed, “kawaii is ‘cute’ in Japanese!” Thank you, darling, for that.

In between those utterly brainmelting tracks hide a handful of decent songs; again, they’re all styled straight out of 1987, but overlooking the kitsch, the songs do stand well on their own. “Cool” is an upbeat ballad that actually sounds more representative of what one may have originally expected from Stefani; accordingly, it’s easily the best track of the album. There’s nothing particularly original or interesting about “Crash,” but it’s one of the few super-poppy tracks that doesn’t come off as overly cloying. Otherwise, while “Danger Zone” keeps up the schticky sound, its affect is much less harsh when it gets into your head and stuck there for any period of time.

In stark contrast, if it’s not weird or tolerable, it’s either bland or completely awful. “Luxurious” is almost reminiscent of the most obnoxious of early ’90s Jodeci, with an incredibly cheesy backdrop and self-aggrandizing lyrics that are enough to make one gag. Yes, Gwen, we all know that you married Gavin Rossdale and that you made a bucket of money in No Doubt; kindly drop the songs about all the fancy crap you own. “The Real Thing” is a snoozy techno-ballad with absolutely no hook. As a bonus, a second version is included. Interestingly enough, after multiple listens of the album (which would include twice as many listens to this song), it still rings absolutely no bells on replay. “Serious” almost reminds me of a Samantha Fox tune minus the raunch. And somewhere toward the end, “Long Way To Go” appears as a full-circle trip to the beginning of the disc as Stefani teams with Outkast with promise and a song about interracial relationships, although sadly it’s just not memorable, either.

Regardless of the mediocrity throughout, it’s more startling that Gwen Stefani’s distinctive voice makes little showing. Yes, she vocalizes; she coos, she raps, she oohs and ahhs, her babbling is tripled and quadrupled through the magic of Pro Tools and she works her quirkiness distinctly into an ’80s flashback. Yet, one of No Doubt’s biggest hits included “Don’t Speak,” a ballad distinctly sung by Stefani. “Cool” is as close as she gets to actually singing on the entire album, as it almost seems like somebody somewhere decided that if one can’t sing like Beyoncé, one shouldn’t sing at all. It’s quite sad, as it’s her distinctive voice — not her schticky music style — that should make her stand apart from the rest.

While No Doubt got plenty of airplay with their cover of “It’s My Life” last year, one couldn’t have imagined that Stefani would decide to make that the entire focus of her solo career. Honestly, there is no exaggeration in the statement that Love.Angel.Music.Baby sounds like nothing more than a cleverly marketed rehash of all that is cheesy ’80s pop. Every track sounds like a modern remix of an ancient empty-brained dance anthem. In theory, it’s quite innovative and fascinating; in practice, it’s just short of a fork being driven through one’s skull. Perhaps with a little more effort taken in the songwriting area, the colossal potholes in this album could have turned this into a true kitschy classic.