In the decade Gwen Stefani spent away from the recording studio, she’s forgotten how to make a great album.
Back in the mid-2000s, Gwen Stefani was a musical juggernaut, sending three songs into the Hot 100’s Top 10 and creating a pop music staple with the smash hit “Hollaback Girl.” Her R&B and hip-hop-tinged pop music was brash and unmistakable. With her latest release, This Is What the Truth Feels Like, however, she’s a shadow of her former self.
Stefani used to be a pop powerhouse, but over the past decade, her role in pop has been filled by newcomers like Selena Gomez and Charli XCX, leaving her without a sonic home. Stefani hardly tries to reclaim her fame — the one track on Truth where she sounds like classic Gwen is “Naughty.” Borrowing from Melanie Martinez, the song’s sparse production and beat drop in the chorus reinvents her 2006 sound, though her delivery verges on scolding mother rather than a sultry lover.
The lyrics throughout the album are indirect and shy away from the boldness of “Hollaback Girl.” In the opener, “Misery,” Stefani shamelessly flaunts the cliché of comparing love with drugs, previously explored in Kesha’s 2010 hit “Your Love Is My Drug” (with lyrics such as “You’re like drugs to me” and “Put me out of my misery”), and in “Where Would I Be?” Stefani turns to poorly imagined rhymes (“I just can’t resist / You’ve got the perfect kiss”). However, none of these lyrical sins are as egregious as the entirety of “Send Me a Picture,” which is a heap of sexual energy watered down to the mind-numbingly boring lyric, “So show me what you’re doing, boy / I wanna see what you’re doing, boy.”
When Stefani attempts to reclaim her edge in the Fetty Wap-assisted “Asking 4 It,” she instead comes off as tired and meek by sticking to a low-octave drawl in the verses. Though she presents some feistiness in “Red Flag,” the absolutely bizarre combination of a solemn cello and a club-ready hook ruins the song, which becomes the album’s low point. It’s also the only song where the production lets Stefani down. On the rest of the album, the production does the heavy lifting; where Stefani falters with her lyrics and vocal performances, it remains consistently strong and never goes over the top.
Though sparse, Truth does have considerable highs. The title track perfectly maintains a relaxing volume on top of a straightforward beat, allowing Stefani and the song’s simple, yet addictive melody to shine. The album’s second single, “Make Me Like You,” a shimmering ’70s disco jam, is a pleasure from the first guitar strum to the last buoyant “Now you got me missing you.” The album closer, “Rare,” falls into the horribly predictable lyricism that plagues the rest of the album, but is a soothing mid-tempo track that ends the LP on a high note.
So what does the truth feel like? At its worst, it’s tolerable; its best, only moderately memorable. With solid production, inconsistent vocal deliveries and poor lyricism, Truth straddles the middle of the road, attempting to revive a boisterous career with minimal effort and safe artistic and executive choices. The result is a record that’s perfectly okay — something to pass the time while we wait for Stefani to decide to make a truly passionate album again.
Album: This Is What the Truth Feels Like
- Genre: Pop
- Tracks: 12
- Rating: 6/10