Album Review: Gwen Stefani – ‘This Is What The Truth Feels Like’
It’s been over a decade since Gwen Stefani’s last solo album. Not only can a lot happen in pop music in less than 12 months, but 10 years – artists can easily get lost in the mix. But Gwen Stefan isn’t like most artists, now is she?
Let’s just cut to the chase – Gwen Stefani’s third solo album, ‘This Is What The Truth Feels Like’ is unlike any other solo album she’s ever released. Mainly because it doesn’t sound like anything the Gwen Stefani from a decade ago would release.
But let’s back up a bit before we dive into ‘Truth’. Between ‘The Sweet Escape’ and now, Gwen reunited with No Doubt, gave birth to another child, became a coach and advisor on The Voice, and divorced her long-time husband, Gavin Rossdale. To say that Gwen has experienced a major shift in what her life was would be an understatement; and to say that she had a vast pool of life experiences to pull from for this record would be an even bigger understatement.
But this record didn’t start out the way it was finished. Originally, Gwen sought out to curate a record of songs submitted by of-the-moment producers and songwriters. Ultimately, she scrapped it in order to focus on something more authentic. Gwen – the coolest girl in pop – just coast by? Not acceptable.
Then, her marriage fell apart. Without a way to cope with the pain, Gwen dove nervously into creating a solo album that would take all that heartache away. However, her label delivered a crushing blow to Gwen’s artistry and told her that her record was too personal and would fail to generate a radio hit. After that comment, Gwen wrote and recorded ‘Used To Love You’ and the rest is history.
Now, back to ‘Truth’. When this record was first announced, we were expecting an album that dove deep into the story behind Gwen’s break up. Instead, we got a record about Blake Shelton. Did we want this? No. Did we need this? No. In all honestly, we feel a bit deceived. From the way the record was set up with the lead single to the actual title, we were expecting a totally different album.
Trading her hip-hop and dance inspired beats for lush minimal pop and trap-pop sounds, Gwen leaves her eccentricities and quirkiness behind (for the most part) in favor of a more adult contemporary sound. For the first time ever, we’re experiencing a Gwen that a bit more softer around the edges and – dare we say – happy. It’s not a bad thing; just very unexpected from the girl we know and love.
The gist of the record is that Gwen wants you to know that she’s head over heels in love with Blake Shelton, the man that saved and healed her. Sans a few moments on this album, Gwen is selling the fact that life is nothing but sunshine and roses with her new muse.
Out the gate, the lush album opener ‘Misery’ captures the initial spark between Gwen and Blake before we get into several songs (the sunny ska flavored ‘Where Would I Be?’, the soft ‘Rare’, and the twinkling ‘You’re My Favorite’) about how life is beyond bliss with Mr. Shelton. Even on the flirty sexting ode ‘Send Me A Picture’, Gwen manages to capture a snapshot of the youthful side of new love. It’s a nice to hear that Gwen is out of the dark, but to have 1/4 of the record repeating the same idea? Gwen – you’re more creative than that. But hey – inspiration is inspiration.
Of all the songs about Blake, the disco-dancin’ second single ‘Make Me Like You’ and ‘Truth’ are the strongest – especially the later. ‘Truth’ may come off breezy, but acts more like a love letter to her fellow coach on The Voice. Gwen is at her best when she digs deep and gets introspective and lyrics like “I really don’t wanna embarrass myself/And no one’s gonna believe me, not even myself/And they’re all gonna say I’m rebounding/So rebound all over me” are nothing short of classic Gwen.
Thankfully, only 75% of ‘Truth’ is devoted to Blake. For those like us looking for songs that tackle her divorce head on, you’re in luck. Beyond ‘Used To Love You’, Gwen delivers a final kiss-off to Gavin with her redemption song, ‘Me Without You’. Throughout the record, Gwen sings honestly about being weak and insecurity. You may have to wait until the tail end of the record in order for her stand confidently on her own, but once she gives that sigh of relief – man, is it good.
‘Me Without You’ may be her moment of perseverance, but ‘Naughty’ is without a doubt her moment of defiance. On the track, Gwen tackles all the rumors surround Gavin’s infidelity and seemingly confirms them in a theatrical, semi-cheerleader-y manner. Classic Gwen is largely absent throughout the record, but for three whole minutes she appears on what could be the album’s defining moment.
Despite a few missteps (the constant praising of Blake, the too left-of-center ‘Red Flag’, and the phoned-in, trend hopping ‘Asking 4 It’), ‘This Is What The Truth Feels Like’ isn’t half bad. Unexpected – but not entirely awful.
Ultimately, we would have liked to see Interscope take a risk and release the record pre-‘Used To Love You’ – or at least a mix of that record with this one. A roller coaster of emotions was what we expected from Gwen this time around – the worst of the worst and the best of the best. We may have gotten a glimpse at her current ‘Truth’, but is the the whole story? Hardly – but maybe that’s being saved for another time.