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Gwen Stefani
The Sweet Escape
Interscope Records

I like "Hollaback Girl" and the occasional No Doubt song as much as the next guy. But something about Gwen Stefani's new The Sweet Escape rings hollow. She's like a rich girl who goes clubbing just because she can afford it, not because she simply loves getting out on the dance floor and feeling the music.

Stefani shows off many of her multiple musical personalities throughout this latest effort. There's the kitten-y soft girly vocal of "Orange County Girl," as well as a cheerleader-like chant of "Now That You Got It." But these stereotypical personalities are getting a little too familiar and starting to wear out their welcome.

She also uses producers the way Paris Hilton dates famous men. Each is tried on for size, for a few moments of studio fun then quickly discarded for the next new flavor. The Neptunes, Nelle Hooper and even No Doubt-er Tony Kanal fill out the assembly line. But few of these tracks stick to the ribs like a good meal. "Wonderful Life," which sounds a lot like Real Life's '80s synth-rock hit "Send Me An Angel," suggests a worthwhile new avenue for Stefani - (synth) rock of the '80s. Rather than the ska of No Doubt, or the club music of her prior and current solo recordings, this track is ably assisted by Depeche Mode mastermind - and '80s synth god -- Martin Gore and Brit rocker Richard Hawley. "U Started It," due to its memorable melody, also has hit single written all over it.

Unlike the other Britneys and Christinas of our pop world, Stefani at least has solid alternative rock credentials. But this stacked resume does not guarantee excellence in solo efforts. And with The Sweet Escape, Stefani is unable to get herself - Houdini-like - free from its lackluster material.

-Dan MacIntosh

Track Listing:
1. Wind It Up
2. The Sweet Escape
3. Orange County Girl
4. Early Winter
5. Now That You Got It
6. 4 in the Morning
7. Yummy
8. Fluorescent
9. Breakin' Up
10. Don't Get It Twisted
11. U Started It
12. Wonderful Life

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