As a child, I loved many things — Gwen Stefani included. Gwen hasn’t released a solo album since my childhood, her last one being 2006’s hip-hop-infused The Sweet Escape.
Since then, Stefani has gone on to release multiple fragrances, a clothing line, and even a record with her band No Doubt. But there’s been no mention of a solo album. It wasn’t until nearly a decade after The Sweet Escape that Gwen dove back into the solo realm, releasing a string of singles that ultimately led to this year’s LP This Is What the Truth Feels Like, a surprisingly fresh and nostalgic take from one of pop’s most eclectic singers.
In 2014, rumblings of a comeback for the singer were prominent. After giving birth to her third son, Apollo, Stefani landed a coaching gig on NBC’s singing competition reality show The Voice.
In all this chaos, Stefani released the good, yet slightly generic, “Baby Don’t Lie,” which was then followed up by the noisy “Spark the Fire.” Neither of these were the song Stefani needed to re-enter the music scene, and these two songs ultimately failed to garner the attention needed for her comeback. It wasn’t until an unexpected, tumultuous divorce from husband Gavin Rossdale, and an equally as unexpected romance with fellow divorcee and Voice coach Blake Shelton, that Stefani really found her message.
This Is What the Truth Feels Like opens up with the bittersweet “Misery,” a song that slowly progresses into a booming number about Gwen needing a lover to save her. The song touches upon the themes of the record: heartbreak and romance. As the album continues, songs such as the bouncing “Where Would I Be?” and the shockingly personal title track “Truth” show Stefani’s newfound love in Shelton.
This devotion only lasts for so long, however, as the second half of the album primarily deals with Stefani’s devastating heartbreak. The album’s first single, “Used to Love You,” brings emotion to the forefront, fully displaying her vulnerability before coming to an epic conclusion when she states, “I don’t know why I used to love you.” This, along with track “Me Without You,” show not only her pain, but the strength that has come from it.
This Is What the Truth Feels Like does have a few missteps, though. For an artist like Stefani, growth is essential with a comeback album such as Truth. However, tracks like “Red Flag,” a noisily angry number, and “Naughty,” back Stefani into the same corner that “Hollaback Girl” did over a decade ago, reducing her to yelling and moaning over somewhat overproduced beats. Both songs could fit into The Sweet Escape, and whether or not that is a compliment is up to the listener.
Ultimately, the album plays out just as a Gwen Stefani album should in 2016. After a long, excruciating wait for her new album, This Is What the Truth Feels Like is a return to form for the 46-year-old singer. Stefani has never been more personal and carefree, as displayed in the funky album highlight “Make Me Like You.”
And with an album like Truth, I’d say Gwen makes it pretty easy to like her.
4 out of 5 stars.
— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger