Love. Angel. Music. Baby

Gwen Stefani

Universal, 2004



When I first heard "Hollaback Girl," a battle anthem between warring cheerleaders, I knew this one was a winner. Finally, a terrific pop album for grown-ups. A solo effort by the voice of No Doubt, Love. Angel. Music. Baby uses a wealth of eighties synthesizers, clever humor through pop culture references, and for extra fun invites all sorts of undergraduate anthropology (an earlier review attempt of mine describes it as "a pink and eggshell suburban American world with cracks of sexuality and consumerism knowingly warping the Barbie atmosphere").my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's definitely pop but with extra layers. Aside from cheerleaders putting their pompoms down in order to take each other out, "Bubble Pop Electric" features a horny suburban teenage girl who is far from pretending she's above showing it ("drive in movie / drive into me"), "Cool" is how two former lovers accidentally meet each other, each with a new lover in tow, and how nice it is that they can be cool about it (what, that never happened to you?), and "Harajuku Girls" is a guilty orgy of cuteness, dropping plenty of "super-kawai" brand names and parsed Japanese expressions.

Those tracks are great but the ones I found the most interesting involve me using a bit of undergraduate literary analysis. "Danger Zone" describes the breakdown of a personality who has relied on the lies of fashion magazines for her self-image and is beginning to realize what a sandy foundation this is ("Now we share the closet, now you've let me come inside / And now you're finally undressing, and I feel like I might die"). A song made with Andre 3000 from OutKast, "Long Way to Go" tells us about the stares and abuse an interracial relationship still has to endure in our supposedly enlightened times. Stefani sings it with grim restraint, effectively contrasting it to the bubblegum sound of the rest of the album. We have a long way to go.

Of course there are more straightforward pop songs harking back to Cyndi-Madonna territory with "Crash," "The Real Thing" and "Serious," but these songs have filler position near the back of the album. Stefani is not after a solo career (she has repeatedly emphasized that Love is a side project), but I wonder about the girl that walked off at the end of "Danger Zone." I guess you can say she became Tori Amos. I hope, though, that Stefani herself will tell that story someday.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



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