Gwen Stefani’s ‘This Is What The Truth Feels Like’: Album Review
I am writer of good conscience, so I must disclose my own truth before we discuss Gwen Stefani‘s new album, This Is What The Truth Feels Like (out today, ): I am obsessed with her snapchat. Gwen checking into a very basic hotel room when she fell ill at Disneyland. Gwen warning that eating spicy Japanese food before a rehearsal will give you a “tummy ache.” Gwen without her false eyelashes, but never without her mysteriously intense red lipstick. Gwen doing press in her exotic white and black living room, which appears to be all marble [so kid friendly!].
She remains America’s ageless California sweetheart. It’s been a surprising 10 years since Gwen released her second solo album, The Sweet Escape. Since then, she’s released a largely (but not completely) unloved No Doubt album and three big-eyed hipster children (Kingston, Zuma, Apollo). Despite her layers of corporate backing – her product placement game is strong – Gwen is the rare pop star who appears to actually be the persona she presents. And this is rad.
This Is What The Truth Feels Like — let’s just call it Truth — sounds nothing, thank Goddess, like the cookie cutter producer-driven albums marketed by today’s Disneyfied starlets. Built with a core team that includes songwriters Justin Trantor and Julia Michaels (who says that Gwen showed up to the studio with the nails and lips and hair), Truth is the diary of Gwen’s betrayal by and breakup from the faded Brit rocker Gavin Rossdale. But there’s a sunshiney twist: her surprising hook up with her Voice “co-worker” (her word choice), the uber friendly Blake Shelton.
The album’s two finest ballads bookend that story. Gwen literally yelps “I used to love you!” on the track of that name. Her tormented love life is all right there in the “pack your bags” lyric. Despite peaking at only #52 on the Hot 100, the song got everyone’s attention and signaled the singer’s renewed inspiration. As for the crisp, rhythmic “Truth,” from which the album’s title is pulled, it arrives perched alongside her best ballads. Gwen recently told the New York Times that she isn’t a “secret girl.” The first verse gets straight to it: “They’re all gonna say I’m rebounding, so rebound all over me” and follows with her (presumed) Blake pact: “I know we said we were gonna live in the moment / That’s all good, that’s what we agreed, I know it / Every day I believe in you and me more and more.” Pretty song, happy cry.
The album’s highlight, “Where Would I Be?”, plays out like a 1920s flapper jitterbugging to ’90s-era No Doubt in between deep tokes of greenery. It also includes one of Gwen’s more cockeyed couplets: “I want a shot of your vitamin / Fill up my Solo Cup when I’m feeling so lonely … I need some water, so water me.” Before you’ve processed that gem, she’s gone batshit crazy with one of her classic chants on the middle eight: “Wut? Wut? Uh uh!”
“Send Me A Picture” is a mid-tempo creamy-smooth seduction: “Send a little something I could stare at… wanna see you right now with no filter.” Gwen-in-love is clearly never without her phone, but some stuff stays off the socials. And you can’t help but pull for a woman who’s famously only had one boyfriend and one husband.
For the most part, the Pharrell-less Truth steps back from the hip-hop influence of her earlier solo records. After an intro that sounds like a melting violin, “Red Flags” goes there. Gwen’s OTT rapped vocal is thick with attitude: “This is what happens when you don’t have any common sense” she spits, before later dropping the street girl affect to scream, “This is your punishment!” Classic Gwenergy, but it doesn’t always work. While her delivery on the hyper-but-tuneless “Naughty” should recall her “Hollaback” era, it weirdly sounds like Gaga wheeling out that drunken lounge singer voice she sometimes favors, itself a Gwen nod. Not every song can be as pristine as Stefani’s china doll face.
She flies highest when she doesn’t try to recapture the early aughts. Truth‘s final track, “Rare,” is elegant and even-keeled. Again, she bucks modern radio to deliver what’s essentially a folk song scored with an acoustic guitar and galloping beat. “Do you really think you wanna make some new memories with me?” a multi-tracked Stefani sings in the album’s final minute. Let’s wish her that happy ending. Some stories deserve more than 10 seconds before they disappear forever.
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Stephen Sears