Arts & Culture

Generic pop melodies take honesty out of ‘This Is What the Truth Feels Like’

Though Gwen Stefani’s third studio album promises breakup ballads, emotion lacking

By
News Editor
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Before this album, I had not listened to Gwen Stefani’s music so excessively since my tenth birthday party, when my friends and I blared “Hollaback Girl” on repeat on my karaoke set, mimicking Gwen’s nasal, feminine voice until our throats were raw.

The bubbly, foot-tapping songs that marked my childhood karaoke parties are equally as present in Stefani’s newest album, “This is What the Truth Feels Like,” released March 18.

As much as Stefani told the press she was hoping to create a breakup album laced with tangents about her personal life, the album is as bubblegum pop as the rest of her work.

Though Stefani has been a presence in the music industry since the ’90s — a time when her musical stylings were limited to the ska sound of No Doubt — “This Is What the Truth Feels Like” marks only her third solo studio release album.

Gwen isn’t even the first Stefani to show up in a search on Spotify. Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, takes precedence, as her latest hit has been a bit more recent in the making — 2009. These singers suffered the fate of plummeting popularity after 2009, as did their platinum blonde hair styles.

So what is there for Stefani to make of herself? At 46 years old, it’s hard to imagine Stefani in any competition with other current pop icons like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. Still, she’s hiring songwriters fresh off tracks like Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Selena Gomez’s “Good for You,” possibly in an attempt to mimic the style of current radio hits.

Though still primed for radio, “Used to Love You” marks the album’s rawest song. The recent divorcee’s lyrics allude to her marriage of 13 years with James Rossdale and indicate her attempt at a more mature lyricism. The tune slows its tempo in the right places, but its execution is still mediocre, with Stefani’s thin, high voice at the chorus interrupting what could have been a powerful ballad. Though in her video for “Used to Love You,” Stefani’s eyes convey tears and pain, her voice cannot match that emotion in the music.

A lively anthem that tries to reclaim the beat and energy of “Hollaback Girl,” Stefani’s “Make Me Like You” has made a recent impression on the charts. The jump in popularity followed her live performance of the song at the 2016 Grammy Awards, which she filmed and adapted as the song’s music video. The song fails to recapture Stefani’s mischievous, even curt, tone from 2006 but lives up to the album’s overall catchiness.

But I haven’t bought into all of Stefani’s “Truth.” “Send Me a Picture” feels like a desperate attempt to relate to the youths of today — “Are you all alone baby, whatcha wearing? Send a little something I could stare at. … I wanna see you right now with no filter.”

I’m not buying it — Stefani is a mother of three boys, the oldest age 10, and has only a few years on my own mother. Her age reveals itself in the line, “Take another snapshot in the mirror.” Come on, Gwen. Mirror selfies are a thing of the past. We all have iPhones with front-facing cameras now.

The album is a reversion to the Stefani of the past — someone who we’ve long since moved on from, but she can’t seem to. “Naughty” captures this best — it’s a strange blend of her singing and rapping style, a feat that she attained in better days, but seems weak on this album. Rapping is better when it’s done by Fetty Wap in “Asking 4 It,” one of the album’s highlights.

The songs are catchy for an instant, but only that. In the moment, your head will be bopping and a smile curling on your lips, but as soon as the headphones come out, you’re left without an impression.

If this is what the “Truth” feels like, I can’t tell the difference between that and your lies, Gwen.

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