Ben Wener probably had a lot of column space to fill when he realized that his scathing put-down of The Sweet Escape resulted in him–and, actually, anyone representing his paper, the Orange County Register–getting locked out of a recent Gwen Stefani show, so he decided to devote a huge chunk of prose to an examination of why, exactly, he didn’t make the guestlist cut:
I even liked Gwen’s first solo album for what it was – a perfectly plastic homage to a plastic pop era, the one in which we both came of age. But I could tell I had ruffled Gwen’s feathers when we spoke before the disc came out. It was the first time I took her to task for disingenuousness – for being ungodly rich yet still singing, “If I were a rich girl … .”
“What do you mean by that?” she snapped. I said the song could be seen as absurd, even untrue. She explained its lyrics were about when she was just an Orange County girl – ah, that troubling phrase! – dreaming of such wealth.
But then came “The Sweet Escape” – specifically, the song “Orange County Girl,” in which Gwen, who now lives with husband Gavin Rossdale and son, Kingston, in London, had the gall to downplay her calculated popularity, her fame and fortune, and claim to be “just an Orange County girl living in an extraordinary world.”
I found the notion offensive.
“At this point,” I wrote, “sharing her time between L.A. and London while posting a reported $90 million via her clothing lines and selling 7 million copies of ‘Love.Angel.Music.Baby,’ she’s no more ‘just an Orange County girl’ than Best Buy is just a shack that sells Commodore 64s.”
To act as such – to still be drawing upon O.C. roots when you’ve largely left this place behind – is sickeningly phony. And to do about-faces regarding the future of No Doubt – this solo thing, initially just “a lark,” could easily eclipse her past – well, I found that frustrating on behalf of disgruntled fans everywhere fed up with her bland pop ways.
If you think I was harsh, you’re not alone; my wife and closest colleagues agree. “You got personal, dude,” Desert Jeff told me after rereading it.
Sure, playing up her abandonment of her Orange County roots can be construed as “personal,” but you have to imagine that a local paper’s critic is going to at least play up any local angle he can find. Aside from an odd aside about Stefani’s son, Kingston, getting into death metal solely to spite his mother, we didn’t find the review too much more vitriolic than the pans it received in other outlets–if we were Gwen, we’d be a little more steamed at the New York Times‘ Jon Pareles, who accused her of “playing catchup with Fergie” on Escape. So what’s going on here? Is there an incident that Wener isn’t mentioning that set Stefani off? Or did she know that her show is a lemon, and that Wener wouldn’t be fooled by her respiratory system’s attempts to keep up with her songs?