Monday, August 13, 2012

The 80's Reconstituted: Paula Abdul and Madonna Blended Into The Sweet Escape

The Good: Good musical diversity, Interesting sound
The Bad: While Stylish, Lyrics aren't great, Very produced
The Basics: In a fun and generally listenable album, Gwen Stefani presents fairly direct pop music for The Sweet Escape.

[Note: This was originally written when the album was first released! Enjoy!]

While listening to the radio recently, I heard Gwen Stefani's new single “The Sweet Escape.” I had been turned off to the concept of her new album while watching the Billboard Music Awards where she unveiled her first single from the album The Sweet Escape, "Wind It Up." "Wind It Up" did not grab me with its simplistic lyrics and militaristic marching sound. It just did not work for me. When I heard The Sweet Escape, the single, it got me thinking. Something about the sound of the song itched in my unconscious and I could not quite place it. Whatever music one has while growing up, I think, makes them attuned to that same type sound. As a child of the 80s, The Sweet Escape had a sound I was having such trouble placing, though it seemed so familiar. Then it hit me.

Gwen Stefani is today's Paula Abdul.

Seriously. Listen to “The Sweet Escape.” It could have been a Paula Abdul song in terms of lyrics, production and music. It has the generally dancable sound, lyrics that are not earthshattering but are generally uplifting or steady and is overall listenable if not enduring or great.

Gwen Stefani, now a solo artist, presents music rather different from her No Doubt days. In fact, only one of the songs on The Sweet Escape sounds like anything No Doubt would work with ("Fluorescent"). Everything else on the album is pretty much standard pop-dance music. It seems designed for sound rather than substance and it succeeds at that. So, for example, on "Wind It Up," the heavy bass is contrasted with Stefani yodeling and speak-singing such lyrics as ". . . the boys all look but, no, they can't touch / But the girls want to know why the boys like us so much / They like the way we dance / They like the way we work / They like the way that l.a.m.b. is going 'cross my shirt . . ." Unlike something like the Black Eyed Peas "My Hump," which might be viewed as either parody or flirtatious, there is no such quality to the way Stefani makes observations in "Wind It Up." The result is pure pop.

Of the twelve tracks - which seems to be a standard number on most pop albums these days - on The Sweet Escape, none leap out as anything that is terribly enduring. This is a collection of up-tempo, generally fun-sounding tracks that don't inspire or challenge the listener to any thought. So, while “The Sweet Escape,” the single, is familiar sounding, it carries the same conceits that failed to keep Paula Abdul in the limelight.

Conversely, The Sweet Escape, the album has a Madonna-esque quality to it in the sound from track to track. The tracks sound very different within the pop spectrum from one another. So, while "Wind It Up" plays off a military march, "Don't Get Twisted" uses a carnival melody and "Orange County Girl" has more of a hip-hop feel to it. There is a sense of reinvention song to song on The Sweet Escape that at the very least makes the album listenable. Noticeably absent is a ballad, thought. The closest to that is "Early Winter" which has a softer sound initially but then continues with enough drums to keep it more a pop-dance song than a ballad. Contentwise, "Early Winter" is one of the better tracks with the sadness of the demise of a relationship being expressed.

Problematically, the album has tracks that become annoyingly hypnotic with repetition. "Wind It Up" repeats the title a number of times (and appears again on "Yummy") and "Now That You Got It" repeats that line an annoying number of times at the beginning and throughout as to make it almost unlistenable. Fortunately, only one track, "Yummy" is self-promotional which is decent for an artist as popular as Gwen Stefani.

My last real comment on The Sweet Escape has to do with the packaging. There are no notes on my copy indicating it is an edited version, but there are places where Stefani edits out swear words, which seems silly to me. If there's no PA version of The Sweet Escape, it seems silly she edited herself this way. But in the liner notes for the album, there are a number of severely airbrushed images of Gwen Stefani. Almost all of them are better than the one on the cover of the album, which makes me wonder, "What are they marketing as Gwen Stefani?" If Stefani is going for style or sex appeal, she's selling herself short with the cover. If she is selling herself on substance, she lacks the material for that.

The best track is the substantive "Lonely Winter," the weakest track is the carnie sound of "Don't Get Twisted."

For other pop albums, check out my takes on:
Bomb In A Birdcage - A Fine Frenzy
Susanna Hoffs - Susanna Hoffs
Between The Days - Merril Bainbridge


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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