Gwen Stefani’s first solo outing feels like the assortment of singles and aborted studio experiments of a long lost 80s dance diva. One that’s hugely obsessed with Japanese subcultures and having sex in cars. There are obvious nods to Madonna, Prince, New Order and random hip-hop and one hit wonder dance acts. In today’s painfully serious, but utterly ridiculous, pop landscape this still sounds playful, cheeky and like a load of fun. Even if some of it just isn’t very good.
First off, “Harajuku Girls” is the worst song on the entire record. The sound effects, tweaked vocals and bordering on lesbianism fetishization of the girls just are awkward and clunky. The lyrics aren’t her best, not even on this record where heartfelt and meaningful lyrics fall by the wayside for frivolous fashion centric concoctions. “Long Way to Go” is another song with thuds more than it thumps. The beat is good, Andre 3000 is incapable of making a bad one, but it doesn’t live up to the promise of two of modern day pops weirdest and coolest figures making music together. This should have been something to rival Madonna and Prince’s bump-and-grind during “Love Song.” It’s not. The “Papa Don’t Preach” like string-intro-and-all of “Serious” should have been better than it turned out to be. “Crash” is pretty much Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” with different lyrics. It’s stupid, but not as fun as the rest of the album.
“Hollaback Girl” is like a hip-hop, Queen referencing take on “Mickey.” It’s a love it or hate it kind of song. But there’s a quartet of songs which are the best, because they sound like No Doubt leftovers. “Cool” is a nice slice of mid-tempo New Wave. “Danger Zone” is rocking New Wave song. Neither wouldn’t have been out of place on Rock Steady. “The Real Thing” sounds an instrumental from New Order’s Substance being given a female lead vocal. “Bubble Pop Electric” is like a Grease being given acid and discovering Japanese culture. Naturally, it’s a highlight on the record. In fact, it might just be the highlight of the album.
While tracks like “What You Waiting For?” and “Luxurious” sound fantastic, others are lackluster. It’s half of a great album, half of a middling one. I give her points for being so willfully weird, even borderline experimental, but it’s too frothy, too simplistic to be anything of real artistic merit. She aimed to be a guilty pleasure record and succeeded. I just wish that she aimed higher. I know she’s talented enough. DOWNLOAD: “Bubble Pop Electric”