The Sweet Escape

Artist: Gwen StefaniTitle: The Sweet EscapeRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Alex Thornton

2004’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby. was intended to be a one-off vanity project by No Doubt front-woman Gwen Stefani, but popular demand

prompted her to record The Sweet Escape (Interscope). On her

sophomore attempt, the good news and bad news are the same: Escape

keeps the hectic pace and stylistic variety of Stefani’s L.A.M.B. Given

the success of “Hollaback Girl,” Gwen logically leans a little more

towards the Hip-Hop side this time, but still touches all four corners

of her musical map.

Simply put, there is way too much going on with The Sweet Escape. The

lead single, “Wind It Up,” is an imaginative blend of The Sound of

Music’s “The Lonely Goatherd” with Pharrell’s signature drums and

leaves just enough breathing room to not overwhelm. Things often get

out of hand, though, especially on “Now That You Got It” where an

exhausting Swizz Beatz track fights Gwen’s directionless vocals to a

standstill. Akon handles the task better on the title track,

integrating the brassy horns and Caribbean rhythms of Stefani’s ska

roots into her current sound. The simple melody fits into Gwen’s range

perfectly, letting her shine as a vocalist much better than tracks like

“Breakin Up” where she again strains to stand out among the busy

backdrop.

The overdone dance material also does a disservice to selections like

“Early Winter” and “4 In the Morning,” which feel the most like No

Doubt records. Tony Kanal’s productions are well-executed reminders of

Gwen’s original appeal, but sadly, the more dense forays into Hip-Hop

they’re partnered with drown them out. Stefani’s vocal range is

limited, but her talent with harmony and emotion shows on “U Started

It,” with light string arrangements that work with the singer instead

of against her.

At a time when everyone is trying to be Prince, for The Sweet Escape

Gwen tries to follow Madonna’s footsteps instead but misses the point.

While Madonna is known for integrating a wide variety of styles into

her catalogue, she typically sticks to a single theme per album rather

than trying to cram every impulse into each release. While it’s better

for Stefani to experiment as a solo artist than with her band, trying

to juggle both styles may not work. The Sweet Escape has its moments,

but if she has to choose, then it’s time to start working on that Rock

Steady follow-up.

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