Saturday, March 26, 2016

This is What the Truth Feels Like | Gwen Stefani



Upon a personal whirlwind, Gwen Stefani found her way to the center of pop culture conversation late last year without much more than a lone single, "Used to Love You," and a new season on The Voice to merit worthwhile headlines. Months removed, as only aftershocks of her public appearance with Blake Shelton made ripples on tabloid sites, she wiggled her way back to the spotlight with her side of the story: her third studio album, This is What the Truth Feels Like, is the musical diary to accompany the recent events, telling her side of the story through song.

Writing duo Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, Stefani's studio crutches throughout the album, make their presence heard without overriding her own immature quirks, helping sell her heartbreak and healing through songwriting that lends itself to crisp, perfectionist productions, spare the typical bombast of Top 40. Much less confrontational than Stefani's previous material, these songs are not climactic affairs; choruses are more business-as-usual than noteworthy. That does, however, make for some well-rounded tracks, such as the title track; as gentle synths breeze through and light drum machines click and pop, it's a breath of fresh air that isn't far from the ballpark of Selena Gomez's "Hands to Myself." Let's also not forget the bucket of fun that is "Make Me Like You" and the sprawling little ditty "Rare," two of the best offerings on the album; neither are bangers expected from Stefani, but their delicate productions, like most on this album, are refreshing.

In some ways, record executives' claims that this record is "too personal" seem valid. Detached from the context of Stefani's personal life, it reaches a level of schizophrenia: at one point, someone went and made her like him, yet at another, she cries because she realizes that she hates someone she used to love. To her defense, though, most of the album does play out like an autobiography, chronicling the ending of her Gavin Rossdale chapter and the beginning of the Blake Shelton one. I must argue the validity of some of the lyrics as they pertain to her new country flame, because I just don't see Shelton as the Snapchat sexter type ("Take a Picture") nor the inducer of a drug-like hypnosis ("You're My Favorite"), but she gets an 'A' for creativity. Her fantasies do make for some catchy tracks.

Okay, so there are some moments that are inexplicable -- the moans and screams on "Naughty," whatever "Red Flag" is -- and others that are unforgivable -- some lyrical immaturity across the board, Fetty Wap's invitation to rhythmically mumble across "Asking 4 It." But let's get real: is sensibility a prerequisite for a Gwen Stefani album? This is the same woman who we have embraced on separate occasions for spelling "bananas" repeatedly over a stomping beat, making this music video, and yodeling her way through a track. Does it all really have to make sense at this point? Not really. It just has to be fun and sort of chintzy; this album is both. Enjoy it for what it's worth.

This is What the Truth Feels Like is available now under Interscope Records. An exclusive deluxe edition can be found at Target department stores.

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