The cover of The Sweet Escape, the latest release from Gwen Stefani, features a glamorous headshot of the singer. The photo is flashy and clean (thank you, airbrushing), two qualities only briefly present on the album. It features a handful of various producers (The Neptunes and Swiss Beatz among them) who each attempt to lay down their own unique sound atop Stefani’s vocals. The result is a mish-mash of songs, ranging from the catchy to the mundane.

Phil Dokas
Gwen Stefani can sure as hell look good, but when it comes to albums, only her liner notes make the cut. (Courtesy of Interscope

The album opens with its first single, “Wind It Up.” Just as “Rich Girl” (from 2004’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby) referenced “If I ere a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, “Wind It Up” also recalls a famous musical. This time, it’s The Sound of Music – the singer is apparently quite the fan – and the allusion is heard in the yodeling throughout the song. The beat is contagious, and the lyrics are uptempo and catchy, two qualities which make this song the ideal dance club track – and one of the album’s few redeeming songs.

“4 in the Morning” showcases the quieter, more subdued side of Stefani. It’s easy to tell that she’s a talented singer just based on this song. Her vocals are smooth and controlled, as she pleads to give her that which she gives so freely. Could this be a hint to Gavin, perhaps? In any case, the effective instrumentation, most notably the brief piano solo, helps convey Stefani’s emotions.

While “Wind It Up” and “4 in the Morning” are indeed solid tracks, they are the strongest songs on Escape. The remaining cuts quickly lose steam, sometimes crossing the line into boring and obnoxious. “Orange County Girl” has Stefani busting out her mildly whiny, baby-talk voice as she sings “I’m just an Orange County girl / Livin’ in an extraordinary world.” While the vocals are reminiscent of “Just a Girl” off of No Doubt’s 1995 release Tragic Kingdom, no other comparisons should be drawn between the two songs. “Just a Girl” will always remain a classic anthem, while “OC Girl,” well, won’t.

“Breakin’ up” is the most obnoxious song on Escape, and yes, it really is that obnoxious. The lyrics are overly repetitive and unoriginal (“Hold up, I think you’re cutting out / Hold up, I think I’m losing you / Tell me can you hear me now / We’re breakin’ up, up, up, up”). If those lyrics look unappealing on the page, imagine Stefani talk-singing them countless times throughout the song, while the minimal beat drags agonizingly along.

“Yummy” features guest vocals by Pharrell – a move that unfortunately falls flat on its face. Stefani’s vocals plod along in a monotone as she sings (talks?) about “feeling yummy,” and “bein’ off making babies.” The background consists of a constant drumbeat, handclaps and even a baby’s cry. It’s telling when the best part of the track is the break near the end when the vocals cut out in favor of sounds akin to a car that just won’t start.

The title track – and the album’s closer – admittedly grows more appealing with each listen, but it’s still not as strong as the rest of the album, which hardly builds enough momentum as it is.

Akon’s vocals on “Smack That” are infectious, and succeed in distracting the listener’s away from Stefani’s annoying contributions.

The Sweet Escape is without a doubt a disappointing album. It was expected, and hoped, that Stefani’s use of multiple producers would lead to a diverse mix of exciting and noteworthy tracks.

Sadly, this isn’t the case, as the majority of the album is subpar and well below that of which Stefani is clearly capable. On the bright side, at least “Hollaback Girl” isn’t on it.

Two out of five stars

Gwen Stefani
The Sweet Escape
Interscope

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