Review Summary: Ban Gwen Stefani from accessing any post-1987 albums for best results next go around. For now, just skip half this record for a sample of what could be.
Don't be dissuaded. "Wind it Up" was not selected as a lead single because it displayed any musical acuity superior to the other songs on The Sweet Escape
, nor because it best functioned as a summation of the record, nor, believe it or not, as an intentional radio-led continuation of her Broadway butchering debuted on theFiddler on the Roof
take-off "If I Were a Rich Man". Instead, "Wind It Up" most facilitated a video filled with random bullsh
it. That's it. Give "Wind It Up" its due credit then - that it is more random-bullsh
it-friendly than "Breakin' Up" and "Yummy" is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The Sweet Escape
is really an album for everyone. Half appeals to those who like stilted club pop performed with a quarter of the charm and credibility of contemporaries (and that's including
Fergie); the other half appeals to people who are glad their chosen selection of songs isn't as bad as the former category.
"Now That You Got it" robs Beyonce's "Ring the Alarm" so heavily I'd make a reference to the siren in the background if I tended to the easy joke. Stefani's take on Jay-Z's refrain on the other hand - that's inimitable. I can't wait to hear the phone break-up ode "Breakin' Up" (someone call Paul Heaton, how's that for a play on words?) on ringtones for the next decade. "Orange County Girl" is both horrifyingly bad and alarmingly appealing - I'll give her a pass on that one and accredit any appeal to my admitted lack of taste.
But if the best songs aren't when she's aping Fergie, Beyonce, Ciara, or Julie Andrews (suprisingly!), they are when she's imitating other popular artists - only twenty years dated, or more. "The Sweet Escape" strikes as a modernised Brian Wilson, while "Wonderful Life" expertly channels Depeche Mode. "4 in the Morning" recalls a "Crazy For You"-era Madonna. Somehow, "Fluorescent" rings of "Locomotion"-era Kylie Minogue. Clearly, as a solo artist, Gwen Stefani is a born imitator. Problem is she needs a lesson in discretion; she can handle aping her new wave heroes, but needs to stay a mandated distance from modern musical trends.
"4 in the Morning" and "Early Winter" are pure Stefani - and understandably, they are far superior to any of her attempts at mimicking other artists. It's frustrating that Stefani can't run with her strengths and instead insists on compiling awkwardly incongruous songs, resulting in a mishmash of cyclopean proportions that disappoints admirers of both her facades.
Best course of action, then? Delete all but "The Sweet Escape", "Early Winter", "4 in the Morning" and put "Wonderful Life" on endless repeat. Even if Stefani will still find a way to work Mongolian hesychasts into the videos.