Saturday, April 2, 2016

Album Review: This Is What The Truth Feels Like

Since blasting off into pop-rock icon status in 1995 with No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom, it's hard to believe that it's been a decade since Gwen Stefani's last solo album, The Sweet Escape. The last few years have been weird  times for the platinum blonde, rock-star/fashion designer/The Voice judge/Mom of three boys: the last album that No Doubt released in 2012, Push and Shove un-characteristically flopped, the vibrato style singer rather surprisingly  became a judge on the singing competition TV show The Voiceher 20 year relationship and marriage to Gavin Rossdale abruptly ended very badly in the public eye and now she is on the rebound...errr...she's dating one of her fellow judges from The Voice, country music star Blake Shelton.

It's said that pain spawns growth and creativity and in the midst of swirling publicity, here we are with a brand new solo album from Miss Stefani, This is what the Truth Feels Like.

Back in October 2015 we got a taste of What The Truth Feels Like with "Used To Love You", which upon it's video release Gwen said it was written and recorded on the spot in her dressing room. If this mid-tempo, emotional, synthpop, heartbreak anthem didn't foreshadow what was to come, I don't know what would have.

On February 15th, Gwen made history at the Grammys when she recorded the music video for the 2nd single off of her (then) up-coming new album, "Make Me Like You" live! The very poppy song sparkles with layers of bubbly synth chords and hooks and it's silly/flirty lyrics carry you away to having High School crushes back in the day. It's dancey and catchy and fun and it serves as a single better than the uneasiness the very venerable "Used to Love You" leaves you with.

Being that the first single, "Used To Love You",  is obviously about her Ex and the second single, "Make Me Like You" is blatantly about her current beau Blake Shelton, you can't help but wonder what song is about who when listening to the album.

Evoking an eighties aesthetic, the first track, "Misery" is laced with easy rhymes and a colorful chorus with upbeat tempo gives the song a bright vibe. It's a great introductory track about moving on and probably the closest No Doubt sound the album offers. Gwen leads us further into the world of glittery Pop from there. 

 Dreamy synths with an aquatic feel back the moody "You're My Favorite" a song that is presumably about vices used during the break-up: "but I've been there, done that, bought it, tried it more than I can count. Shook it, stirred it, broke it, smoked it more than I can count. Oh, but out of everything you're my favorite."  It's pretty easy to guess what "vice" was/is her favorite.

"Where Would I Be" opens with slow reggae rhythms which are the first of the few times we get a taste of some reggae: the type heard on a lot of songs from No Doubt's 2011 Rock Steady and of course a key element in the band's SKA roots. They fade quick at the top of each verse wherein Gwen extends the last word of each line and, I'm not gonna lie, it's a little bit awkward. The reggae resurfaces with the chorus before things really get weird. More than half way through she completely flips the script and throws down some sass and sort of raps before the island vibe picks back up. The sassy rapping sounds like a throw-back mash-up of "Hollaback Girl" and "Crash" from her first solo venture L.A.M.B but it's out of place on this track. "Where Would I Be" sounds like it's confused about what type of song it is or wants to be because there's too much going on for one song.

"Send Me A Picture" is pretty silly: I do applaud Gwen for staying current and trying to target the younger demographic but I personally don't want to hear a song about a seemingly insecure, jealous lady wanting her man to send her a selfie. Sorry not sorry. Next!

Sadly, what comes next isn't much better.

"Red Flag" starts off with old timey violin, reminiscent of "Bathwater" off No Doubt's Return From Saturn. Then the beat drops and Gwen takes another stab at rapping. Remember when Madonna tried rapping on American Life? It's like that. As much as you want it to work it just doesn't. "Red Flag" kind of sounds like a rip off of (bad) Die Antwoord and E-40's line in  Big Sean's "I don't F#ck With You": "Why you always coming around with bad news? Say you want me win, but hope I lose?"
The rap theme continues on the bass heavy "Asking 4 It" with the help of Fetty Wap and the fast tempo "Naughty" is paired with fast tempo,  nasally sudo rapping.
The album ends on more of a mellow note with "Me Without You" and "Rare".

The over all theme of This Is What The Truth Sounds Like, not so delicately eebs and flows between emotions: a wilting love and a budding one and has you feeling all the feelings. It's Gwen's diary entries on her heartache.
Being a huge Gwen fan I was really excited for her new music but unfortunately not so excited about what I heard. I've read that she wasn't writing to write hits, she was writing to heal and to that I say you go grrl!

If I had to choose my favorite songs "Misery" and "Make Me Like You" are my top two.
The album artwork is my favorite part of This Is What The Truth Feels Like. As she does through out This IS What The Truth Feels Like, Gwen bares it all with "au natural" make-up look on the cover.

Inside, the CD is a plain matte black disc with her full name and the title of the album in shiny black. Behind it is a fun photo shoot collage of the beauty in retro curls. The booklet is full of notebook doodles and photos of her looking like Marilyn Monroe, it's fun.
I may not love her new album and that's ok, I still love Gwen Stefani.

You can listen to This Is What The Truth Sounds Like in it's entirety on Spotify as of yesterday, no fooling!

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