Love. Angel. Music. Baby
REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/06/2009
With Tokyo as her Technicolor backdrop, Gwen Stefani made sure to kick some serious ass with her debut solo album, the anagramarific Love. Angel. Music. Baby., or L.A.M.B. for short (also the name of her clothing line). Opening with the electric guitar blast of “What You Waiting For” and the emphatic “Rich Girl” was an inspired and wise choice, as they are the best of the lot to be found on LAMB. On “Rich Girl,” hip-hopper Eve returns the cameo favor in a brave attempt to duplicate the success of their previous duet “Let Me Blow Your Mind.”
Next up is “Hollaback Girl,” which joins Toni Basil’s “Mickey” as another #1 cheerleader anthem. Too bad it’s annoying as hell. The only real memorable thing about the track is in how many times the word “shit” is chanted. So much for role models for our children to emulate. It’s tragically unfortunate that song was chosen over other potential hits on the album, especially the fun and manic “Bubble Pop Electric.” Produced by the relatively unknown Johnny Vulture, it is one song that instantly put a smile on my face, mainly because it harkens back to the synth-drenched ‘80s. Ditto for the blatant New Order rip-off, “The Real Thing.”
Like her band No Doubt’s last effort, Rock Steady, L.A.M.B. features an impressive roster of producers who give Gwen their very best work: Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Dr. Dré, The Neptunes, André 3000 of Outkast, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (how’d they get in there?). Even her No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal produces three songs, though none of them really catch fire. The first we hear is the rare Stefani ballad “Luxurious,” which has the feel of early ‘90s hip-hop. Then there’s more rap chant incantations on “Crash,” which has a catchy chorus, but otherwise it’s a loud and confusing mess. Finally, Kanal and Stefani collaborate on the funky “Serious,” which is the best of the trio because it features a dynamic string section to flesh out its sound.
Instead of being cutting-edge and taking stylistic risks, L.A.M.B. plays it safe by treading all-too-familiar musical territory. Aside from the heavier rock material, Stefani doesn’t blaze any new trails of her own. Instead, she looks back and does her take on every pop style that had come before. Paying homage to one’s influences is an interesting way to begin a solo career, but it doesn’t exactly show us anything unique that Gwen Stefani brings to the table as a true artist. Her follow-up album, The Sweet Escape, ended up flopping for the same reasons. Yodeling a refrain from The Sound Of Music? Please, Gwen, are you serious? Gwen Stefani will undoubtedly be a surefire heroine to the indiscriminating tween girls of the world, especially the ones in Japan. But for serious music critics like myself, something about her always gets lost in translation.