It’s been 10 years since 2006. Barack Obama has been elected twice as President. Ugly Betty started and finished. Smartphones and social media have changed our lives indefinitely. It also marks 10 years since Gwen Stefani released a solo album. Expectations obviously have been high for the innovator’s third solo album, This Is What the Truth Feels Like. But were they met? The SparkNotes answer – no.
Let’s put things into perspective here. This is the lady who brought us the legendary bops “What You Waiting For?”, “Rich Girl” and, of course, “Hollaback Girl”. Love. Angel. Music. Baby. is the definition of an iconic pop record, and the follow up The Sweet Escape was similarly successful and experimental. So what did we do to deserve the generic trash she served with her third album? Is this punishment for paying dust to “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire”? Probably. I mean, I know she went through some writer’s block, but damn.
Most of the songs have a basic trap beat, and “Asking 4 It” is Gwen musically begging on her hands and knees for a hit <insert some “Asking 4 It” pun here>. “Naughty” tries to recreate the magic of sassy bops like “Yummy” and “Hollaback Girl”, as does “Red Flag”, but they come off sounding a bit cringe and embarrassing more than anything. Think of this as her Hard Candy and you’ll begin to scratch the surface of why this is, ultimately, a let down of an album.
It’s not all bad though. There’s some flickers of creativity throughout the album, like the ska influenced “Where Would I Be?” and 8 bit melodies of deluxe edition track “Getting Warmer”. The live music video for “Make Me Like You”, the album’s undeniably catchy second single, and her vocal flourishes in “Used to Love You” show that Gwen can still push the boundaries when she wants to. But above all, this is a collection of trendfollowing bops tarnishing Stefani’s reputation as a trailblazing artist. This album is what disappointment feels like – and that’s the truth.