Gwen Stefani’s original group No Doubt was one of the most famous ska band’s to ever reach the charts (look it also functioned as a sentence!). Transitioning to a solo female pop artist in 2004, her spunk, love for bright and flashy design, and the success of The Sweet Escape and “Hollaback Girl” had everyone accepting the new Gwen Stefani, apart from her No Doubt past. It was an interesting style of pop music, one fused with ska-like elements, that she completely dominated. Nonetheless, it’s been ten years since The Sweet Escape was released in 2006, and to see Stefani come back full throttle now came as a bit of a shock. Could she pull off the comeback? What does a forty year-old pop star have to say?
Last August, Stefani filed for divorce after thirteen years of marriage to Gavin Rossdale, guitarist/frontman of the band Bush, and scrapped everything she had been working on since the birth of her third child. “It didn’t feel right… I didn’t feel fulfilled,” she told Entertainment Weekly, “I tried to make a record where I was just kind of involved—which is how a lot of people do it, but it didn’t work for me.” Working with a ton of producers and songwriters, she didn’t feel comfortable with where the record was going, and the singles released around that time didn’t do too well commercially either. She needed to write her own material, and after her divorce she found the inspiration she needed.
Describing the record herself as a “breakup record,” This Is What the Truth Feels Like, is more like a “I could have written a breakup record but I found new love to pull me out of it record.” Which it essentially is both, thanks to her new love interest, Blake Shelton, famous country artist and co-host with Stefani on the television show “The Voice.” She tackles these new-love-trumps-old-heartbreak pop songs with an effortlessly young and vibrant personality much akin to Madonna’s record last year, Rebel Heart, and it’s interesting that such a genre and persona would encapsulate multiple over forty teenage pop females. Usually when artists reach a certain age we expect a bit of maturity to enter into their songwriting, but with these two ladies we got quite the opposite. Instead we got the young and vigorous pop club hits that one could have also expected from someone like Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift.
The record starts off really well however, with the first four tracks making This Is What the Truth Feels Like sound like it’s going to be a huge success for Gwen Stefani. “Where Would I Be?” may be one of her best songs, if not at least the best on the record, but after those four tracks, it kind of takes a steep drop into god knows what. Not to say that the record tanks after “Make Me Like You,” the disco-roller-rink lead single, but it definitely dips when it comes to like-ability. For one, the material is nowhere near as strong or catchy, but it’s more that the rest of the record is home to a couple of songs that just should have been cut. The record has it’s moments where it’s just really lyrically and conceptually lazy, and the result is a track like “Red Flag,” which may be one of the worst songs ever made, though it does have competition for that illustrious “worst song ever made” title with “Naughty,” a song that seemingly can’t decide whether it’s about empowerment or slut-shaming so just goes for both and failing-ly hopes you’ll just not care. Fetty Wap sounds completely unintelligible on “Asking 4 It,” and honestly I never even listened to the 5-tracks of EP-sized bonus material.
It seems that she had a lot of intent and understood what she was trying to say, which is very evident in the first half of the record, but as the material progresses, it’s almost like the weight of having to make a whole 12-track record with five bonus tracks should have just been cut down to an eight track release. I don’t care what the norms are in the pop world, artists should play to their strengths. It’s been ten years since The Sweet Escape, and she’s gone through a lot, so I don’t mean to highly criticize her as an artist and a writer, I understand that much, but This is What the Truth Feels Like does have its moments here and there, especially in the first half, and it’s a welcome return for Stefani to re-enter the music world.