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Stefani's 'Sweet Escape' Is a Delicious Surprise

(Soundbite of song, “Wind It Up”)

Ms. GWEN STEFANI (Singer): (Singing) It's, it's a key that makes us wind up. When the feet come on, the girls all line up…


Gwen Stefani used to be the lead singer of the band No Doubt. When she went solo in 2004, she sold 7 million copies of her album, “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” Stefani has a new album out now. It's called “The Sweet Escape,” and according to our reviewer, Rolling Stone contributor Christian Hoard, it keeps up a sound that both teenagers and soccer moms can love.

(Soundbite of song, “Wind It Up”)

Ms. STEFANI: Wind it up! Wind it up!

CHRISTIAN HOARD: “Wind It Up” is the first single from Gwen Stefani's new album. Chances are you've already heard it, since it's all over radio. Outfitted with a typically great beat by “The Neptunes,” it's a lovably weird song that samples “The Sound of Music,” and it gives you some idea of Stefani's flamboyant pop appeal and left-of-center taste.

(Soundbite of song, “Wind It Up”)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) Don't let it steal your life. I know he thinks you're fine and stuff, but does he know how to wind you up?

(Soundbite of music)

HOARD: Stefani broke out a decade ago as the singer for the multi-platinum band No Doubt then sold 7 million copies of her 2004 solo debut. Like that record, “The Sweet Escape” is a big, slightly quirky album that feels like a party. It's a can't-miss bestseller and a hit-or-miss album. Sometimes it just feels like fluff, but sometimes it's really good fluff.

(Soundbite of song, “Yummy”)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) I'm feeling yummy head to toe. You see me. Ain't got no patience, so let's go. You see me. Look, I'm dying drama, want to spend the night, don't bring pajama…

HOARD: “The Sweet Escape” has its roots in ‘80s pop, sometimes spiritually and sometimes literally, as on the synthy tearjerker “4 In The Morning,” which could be Belinda Carlisle.

(Soundbite of song, “4 In The Morning”)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) All I wanted was to know I'm safe, don't wanna lose the love I found…

HOARD: Like Missy Elliott, Stefani has a gift for turning the slightly weird into the very pop. That gift is abetted by producers like Swizz Beatz and The Neptunes, and “The Sweet Escape” packs palatable oddness in its slightly askew beats and wordy, over-the-top hooks. But with plenty of songwriting experts helping Stefani out, “The Sweet Escape” is also about meticulous pop craft, which comes through on this shimmering ballad, “Early Winter.”

(Soundbite of song, “Early Winter”)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) You, you know how to get me solo. My heart had a crash when we spoke. I can't fix what you broke…

HOARD: Stefani says “The Sweet Escape” is more autobiographical than her debut, and there are references to her recent motherhood, for instance. But it mostly seems like Stefani is playing roles, especially the gum-snapping cheerleader and the sad-eyed sweetie.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) I'm just an Orange County girl living in an extraordinary world…

HOARD: Her showiness gets irksome at times, especially when it feels like she's forcing the catchy moments or when she runs into half-baked song ideas. And even with so many songwriting experts involved, the killer hooks aren't evenly distributed, meaning a handful of cuts are pretty forgettable.

But with so many potential hits, like this one, “Now That You've Got It,” “The Sweet Escape” pushes pleasure buttons while rarely sounding generic, which is more than you get from more giant pop records.

(Soundbite of song, “Now That You've Got It”)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) Now that I'm your baby, (unintelligible), you've got it, what you gonna do about it? Now that you've got it, what you gonna do about it…

BRAND: Gwen Stefani's new CD is called “The Sweet Escape.” Our reviewer, Christian Hoard, is a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine.

(Soundbite of song, “Now That You've Got It”)

Ms. STEFANI: (Singing) You can be about it, you can be about it. Voila, sing ‘em like a (unintelligible), like a superhero. (Unintelligible). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christian Hoard