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Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape

Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

GWEN Stefani is one of the most exciting artists working in the mainstream. She oozes style in just about everything she does, while her music is consistently innovative and always inventive.

The former No Doubt lead singer showed with her debut solo album Love Angel Music Baby that she had what it takes to compete at the forefront of the mainstream scene, mixing it capably with the likes of Madonna, Pink and Beyonce yet delivering things in a style that was distinctly her own.

Sophomore album The Sweet Escape maintains those high standards and proves that her debut was no fluke. It’s a fantastic listen, capable of widespread crossover appeal and almost certain to fall prey to flattering imitations.

It impresses from the outset, kicking off with the brilliant lead single Wind It Up and tossing in one hit after another in a number of different styles.

Wind It Up, in particular, is a highlight that’s sure to become a signature tune for the artist. With its cheeky Sound Of Music sample wrapped around a more distinct tub-thumping beat (think Hollaback Girl), it’s an absolute riot of energy that appeals to the childlike dancer in every one of us. You’ll be foot-tapping and hip-swaying along with its infectious energy in spite of any reservations you may feel. But it’s Stefani’s gift that she can take something that, on paper, sounds cheesy and make it utterly, utterly cool.

Thereafter, it’s a thrilling and eclectic mix packed with the usual smattering of high-profile collaborations – but crucially, with some surprise additions.

Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley provides a telling contribution to Early Winter, a thrilling keyboard-based ballad that finds Stefani at her most intimate and lovely, while Akon’s distinct rapping style works well on the album’s title track, the thrilling Sweet Escape.

4 In The Morning is another heart-melter of a track, a slow-burner built around some lush electronic soundscapes, a swooning set of vocals and some well-realised strings. It’s one for the romantically inclined and a track that serves as a nice contrast to the more boisterous, semi-rap style of dancefloor fillers such as Now That You Got It and Orange County Girl.

Another highlight is the high-tempo, percussion heavy Yummy, a duet with Pharrell that finds Stefani at her most sassy and, well, yummy vocally. It drops in a sample of Wind It Up but in no way feels like a lazy retread of former hits. The chorus, too, provides an example of the artist pushing the pop boundaries to pleasing effect.

The same applies to the effortlessly hip vibe surrounding Fluorescent, another contagious offering that gets better and better the more you hear it, and the dark, grinding Breakin’ Up, which finds the singer at her most feisty and defiant. Both tracks hint at the new directions taken by both Madonna and Nelly Furtado, albeit with Stefani’s distinct spin.

There’s a sweet ’80s vibe surrounding final track Wonderful Life that’s also engaging, while the live version of Wind It Up that brings things to a close is utterly enchanting. Like we said, this is an inspirational piece of work that makes Stefani’s artistic brilliance impossible to escape. Our advice is to shell out and enjoy – it’s one of the hippest releases of the year.

Track listing:

  1. Wind It Up
  2. The Sweet Escape
  3. Orange County Girl
  4. Early Winter
  5. Now That You Got It
  6. 4 In The Morning
  7. Yummy
  8. Fluorescent
  9. Breakin’ Up
  10. Don’t Get It Twisted
  11. U Started It
  12. Wonderful Life
  13. Wind It Up [Live]
  14. Orange County Girl