There's a reason why I avoid Top-40 radio; reason being: It's generally garbage, with too few highlights (hi, AAR) in between commercials and commercialized pop trash to be worth listening to. Not improving this situation is an artist I once admired. Her name is Gwen Stefani.
While I understand that it's a common notion that ska is dead and her former outfit No Doubt evolved their sound, No Doubt's evolution was never really... Bad. The songwriting skill and effort were there. Their hearts were in it. The lyrics were--and remained--, though occasionally trite (enough about Tony Kanal already, seriously--you're married to someone eleventeen billion times better looking, and with a charming British accent to boot), inspired and honest. The vocals were strong and earnest. You believed Gwen was a frustrated almost-feminist in "Just a Girl." You believed she wanted to settle down and get married and be a homemaker in "Simple Kind of Life." You even believed that she wanted to keep dancing in the admittedly mediocre--and telling of things to come--"Hella Good." You believed she was really smitten in "Underneath It All," really torn in "Bathwater."
But how can you believe a thirty-something talking about fighting a beeyotch near the bleachers of a high school, a la the ever-irritating yet inexplicably overplayed "Hollaback Girl" of What You Waiting For (which, I should point out, is missing a verb)? Gwen alienated most of her purely musical, as opposed to image-based, fans with her solo debut, and she's only pushing us further away with her latest release, The Sweet Escape.
It's not that I don't like dance music. I do, quite a bit, and I find that Gwen could, would, and should be capable of creating some quality material with it. But she didn't before, and she hasn't started now. Her producers are quality (The Neptunes, Swizz Beats, and her former flame Tony Kanal, among others), her beats are decent--but her songwriting hasn't improved, and her choice of samples has gone straight to Hell: "Wind It Up" is an absolute disaster. What could have been kitschy, cute, and catchy is instead so unabashedly atrocious, annoying, and aggravating that I find it shouldn't even be played in solitary confinements for fear of ever-rising prisoner suicide rates.
The album's saving graces are Stefani's actual voice and her sense of humor, both of which are waning. The title track showcases both, with her catchy hook and blaming her emotional coldness on presumably Gavin's leaving the fridge door open. Not helping this song is the pointless Akon cameo, but this is the least of our worries. I'd rather have him around than those creepy nouveau-geishas, commonly called "Harajuku girls."
What's most disturbing about Gwen is that she pretty much admits she's after a quick buck merely three tracks in with "Orange County Girl," where she sings, "Don’t know what I’m doin’ back in the studio/Gettin’ greedy cause he said he had another sick flow ... I got the L.A.M.B. and he’s rockin’ the Ice Cream/Blend it together, something fresh and kinda in between/Writing down my feelings is something that I love/So I don’t really give a ****." In saying she only wants to express her feelings (which I can only imagine are pure materialism and scorn for eardrums everywhere), she first has to namedrop her fashion line that most of her young fans can't afford. Gwen is more concerned with style than substance. That works for her fashion shows, but it doesn't bode well for her live ones.
*By Jess, who now needs to be lobotomized.