Love, Angel, Music, Baby
wen Stefani, fresh from a short break from her band composed of punk oriented collaborators, hears classic New Jack Swing and gets inspired to create a pop album in the grand style of Pop. Producers are called, the one sympathetic ear and burgeoning producer in her band is enlisted and a record begins to emerge.
Some collaborators work better than others: Tony Kanal seems to have his former girlfriend’s ear and mind when it comes to constructing tracks, aside from the lazy sampling of “Between the Sheets”, while Linda Perry performs her addition of depth to an already three-dimensional character, resulting in the tepid “The Real Thing”.
But as it might be expected from the title, despite work with high-profile producers (Andre 3000, Dr. Dre, The Neptunes and Jimmy Jam all make appearances), the album rises and falls on the ability of Stefani to embrace the diva role left behind when Madonna started wearing a red yarn bracelet and Britney got married for the third time. And, on the whole, she hits the mark enough to make her a contender. But not enough to get seriously excited about her as the next great solo female careerist.
It’s not for lack of trying: “What You Waiting For” is a strong first single that utilizes the four modes Stefani voice inhabits: squeal, vulnerable naïf, third grade tattle taler and sing-along school marm. These elements are the backbone of Stefani’s singing style and have made her a small fortune with No Doubt, a band that trades on the conflict between the expressiveness of Stefani’s singing and their generally rock backing tracks. The further move towards electronic elements on the group’s last record predates the material found here, but gives an easy glimpse into what much of Love, Angel, Music, Baby has to offer.
“Rich Girl”, for instance, works as reversal of the Fiddler on the Roof tune and as a lite version of “Hey Baby”. And while the relative coolness can be swept quickly away by the arrival of the album’s best track (“Bubble Pop Electric”), it’s hard to ignore that there are few surprises here. Stefani and collaborators sound exactly as they should. Hitting their lines, adding in a garnishing of backing vocals and stepping back to let the music do the work.
And, unfortunately, fact is, the second half of this record hardly has anything to offer but the proof for predictable theorems: 1) once you’ve heard a bad Linda Perry penned song you’ve heard them all, 2) once was more than enough for drum ‘n bass lite for Andre 3000 and 3) Tony Kanal emerges as the star of the producing bunch. Well, the last one might be a surprise, but for his consistency and laser-focused purpose Kanal proves himself the most accomplished on the record by looking backwards to the 80s for inspiration. Specifically New Jack Swing. Specifically the Jimmy Jam-era that Jam himself misses so widely on “Harajuku Girls” (not that he’s trying, in any case).
The fascinating thing about Gwen Stefani’s record is not how different it sounds from No Doubt, but how similar it sounds to the producers that she works with and how their collaborations usually fall flat because of the rehashing of tired ideas and plodding predictability of her arrangements. A guilty pleasure, it isn’t.
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2004-11-24