Music — Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani

By Kate Pollack

Gwen Stefani ***
Love,  Angel,  Music, Baby.
Interscope records

How many artists could pull off an album like Love, Angel, Music, Baby? The answer, not many. But the real question is, does Gwen Stefani? And the answer to that one is a little more complicated.

Much of the album’s success is due to Stefani herself, a pop princess who wears her persona with more than a touch of irony. I mean this is the same woman who managed to look cool while sporting cotton candy pink hair and braces, not to mention knee socks (the resurgence of which I have no good explanation for).

Senior year, she’s the girl who gets voted most popular and nicest, and this is her greatest asset. It is what sets her apart from Madonna, who, on paper, she is starting to resemble most; married to a famous Brit, splitting her time between LA and London, launching a clothing line whose theme has a direct tie-in to her album, and so on. But, unlike Madonna, Gwen appears approachable, the girl who gets all the boys’ attention, but doesn’t know why. Madonna has always been a look-but-don’t-dare-touch icon, a force of a woman whom you might admire, but will never know.

So, Love, Angel, Music, Baby. Who are they? They are the four Harajuku girls mentioned throughout the album, featured on its Dali-esque cover, and standing alongside Gwen at just about every musical appearance she makes these days. They are the munchkins to her Dorothy.

Harajuku is itself an area in Japan where the hip, trendsetting teenagers hang out. Gwen repeatedly sings of these sweet naifs with idolization, “Harajuku girls you got the wicked style/I like the way that you are/I am your biggest fan.” And this is what sets her apart most from the material girl/kabbalah follower/children’s book writer (whatever). She’s a fan just like you and me, a sweet girl from Orange County who happens to live the life of a superstar. Whatever the truth may be, the image is genius: Gwen Stefani, your friendly neighborhood pop diva.

While there are many opportunities for Gwen’s freshman solo effort to drown in its own cuteness, to lose its way in tired lyrics that sound as if they were scribbled between the margins of a lovesick teenager’s biology textbook —  “I’ve seen your face a thousand times/have all your stories memorized/I’ve kissed your lips a million ways/But I still love to have you around” — it never quite does. By surrounding herself with some of music’s hottest talents (Dr. Dre, Andre 3000, and The Neptunes, to name a few) she almost guarantees it. Her many collaborators give her the zip-bam-boom moxie she’s often in danger of losing.

The gleeful ‘80s dance beat on “Bubble Pop Electric” manages to be fun, but not cloying, thanks in large part to the work of Andre 3000. Much like his smash hit, “Hey Ya,’” “Bubble” makes it cool to have giddy fun while still getting your groove on. And no one has the baby-doll voice better suited to this than Stefani.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Rich Girl.” Produced by Dr. Dre, and featuring Eve, it samples that timeless musical, Fiddler On The Roof, a great hit among the MTV crowd, I’m told (Oy, if I can’t feel my poor Bubbalah sighing into her chopped-liver platter as I write this). The idea of reducing poor, soulful Tevya to a tricked-out song about a girl wanting to be rich sounds completely ridiculous, and, in many ways, it is. Is nothing sacred? Well, yes and no. Fiddler is now a very aged story of a man seeking to marry off his daughter to the highest bidder, the heck with what she wants. Is it really so terrible then for two female pop stars who could buy and sell Tevya’s whole village to gloat a little? I don’t know.

What I do know is that Love, Angel, Music, Baby, is just silly enough to not take itself too seriously, so, maybe, neither should we.

— Kate Pollack

 
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