It’s been several years since her last recording, but former No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani has resurfaced with her third solo album – a “break up record.”
Those are Stefani’s words and although the notion is a turn off for some, it’s equally enjoyable for others. Heartache can be good for creativity, but it’s also in how it’s presented. Context is everything.
Stefani’s two previous solo records were commercial successes that were flawed by a kitchen sink clutter of sounds and arrangements. These were both producer heavy recordings that overcrowded the mixes, making the songs sound dated.
Stefani can generate good songs, but a sweet tooth for producers can trash her material and at last count, there’s at least five of them here.
Well, the break up angle and studio overcrowding can hold up red flags. Could This is What the Truth Feels Like be a self-centred, overindulgent record full of non-relatable, maudlin songs that the world doesn’t need to hear? No and no! There is no vengeance-based Nashville tough girl tunes or embarrassing candid proclamations that masquerade as songs.
Stefani stands out with her weirdly elastic voice and the songs (and producers) give her plenty of space for a wide range of expression. She sticks to the low end of her register and her tonality matches the rich bass and drum focus of the songs.
The album is R&B based and it’s a sound and style that Stefani cut her teeth on in No Doubt. That band favoured a pop-ska approach, but their music had a persistent underlying groove that gave Stefani free reign to proclaim her Betty Boop style anthems.
Several songs here are reminiscent of her No Doubt heyday: Misery, Used to Love You, Naughty. And the album is a fine showcase of Stefani’s vocals and songcraft. Her vulnerability, always given air time in her ballads with ND, is believable.
Three of the strongest tracks (Rave, Truth, and Send Me a Picture) are given that treatment, but considering it’s a breakup record, she sounds great.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon based musician who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.