Review Summary: Writing down my feelings is something that I love, so I dont really give a fuck.
Almost ten years after this album's release, I'm still trying to fathom exactly why I had the connection to it that I did. At this period of time in 2006, I was 14 and had just gotten into the band that, to this day, I call my favourite band- Iron Maiden, and was getting into even more music of a similar kind. And so just like any other 14 year-old who proudly walked down the junior high school halls with "2 Minutes to Midnight" blaring out of my earbuds at stupidly loud volume levels, I fell into that "all pop music is awful" trap. Well, not entirely. I had some respect for some artists like Nelly Furtado, and, more related to the subject, No Doubt. And so I didn't know exactly what possessed me to give this album the attention that I did under such circumstances. I wasn't particularly fond of Stefani's solo debut Love, Angel, Music, Baby
, and despite my shameless neckbeardism thought the Harajuku Girls thing was one of the most pretentious things I had seen in my life, and futhermore, just really missed No Doubt. I even wasn't fond at all of the lead single, "Wind it Up." So why did I check out her sophomore album" Gut instinct, maybe"
The Sweet Escape
is by no means a pop classic. In fact, I'm not exactly sure I'd call it "good" music either, at least not objectively. It's a mess, its head seems to be in 10 different places once, and can be tiring to listen to at times too. However, it strangely is a lot of fun. It also has Stefani's gorgeous voice to help carry it even in the moments where it's about to fall flat on its face completely. It's one uneven listen- the high points rival even her best work with No Doubt, and the low points could be comfortably be catalogued with the "Smack That"s and "Fergalicious"es that were popular at the time. Yet, even when The Sweet Escape
reaces those low points, there is something of a grandeur that creeps into the tracks. Maybe it's pure nostalgia value, or maybe it's that Gwen's mere presence on a track is able to help elevate even by a small amount.
That could probably explain why a great song like "4 in the Morning" comes right after the terrible "Now That You've Got It". Make no mistake, this pattern is pretty much this album's way of life. But as I mentioned, even the terrible tracks have something positive of note. In fact, the forementioned "Now That You've Got It" is full of terrible lyrics and has one of the most annoyingly repetitive choruses I've ever heard, but that hot, swizzy beat is undeniable as fuck. "Yummy" is one of the dumbest sex songs ever written, and has some of the worst lyrics Stefani has written ("I'm feeling yummy head to toe", "Man, there's so much heat beneath these clothes", "I know you've been waiting but I've been out making babies"
), but Pharell's guest appearance is just fantastic, and the subdued, subtle and quiet atmosphere of it is absolutely brilliant, and the outro with the scary and demented circus music, as random and out of left field as it may be, is absolutely brilliant and provides such a brilliant contrast. "Breakin' Up" is full of text speak and is annoyingly repetitive lyrically, but the synth hook that makes up the song is so brilliant stays in your head for a long time.
But those amazing songs really do speak for themselves; "Early Winter" and "4 in the Morning" showcase Stefani's penchant for a great ballad, and are suitably full of emotion. "Early Winter" actually sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on an early No Doubt album, is painfully delivered and at times even tongue-in-cheek ("Why do you act so stupid"/You know that I'm always right"
. "4 in the Morning" shamelessly apes 1980s Madonna, but Stefani's wearing her influences on her sleeve is strangely what makes the song so great- in fact, the chorus is arguably one of the most magnificent things she's ever done. "Orange County Girl" is tight as fuck and delivers one pounding R&B beat with one of her more hooks; the lyrics may be a tad cringe-worthy, but Stefani delivers them in such a fashion that makes them believable. "Flourescent" again shamelessly rips off from 1980s pop (Cyndi Lauper this time), but the catchy beat and the synths sprinkled throughout the song are what give it its life. Stefani's vocals on the song truly soar as well.
Nowadays I may be smarter than I was when I was a teenger, and my music tastes may be wider and more accepting of other genres than they were when I was a Rock N Roll obssessed teenager, but I've realized over the course of those 9 years that Stefani really is no better or worse than the pop artists that littered the airwaves in 2006, and that nothing is ever "objectively good". And as I mentioned earlier, that term cannot be applied to this album, or even "good" for that matter, but if it's fun to listen to, then there is something to be said for someone who at least made an effort to make the album a fun experience. That seems to at least what Stefani aimed for, and there's really no reason why she shouldn't have.
Oh, and there aren't any Harajuku girls here either. There's that, too.