Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Gwen Stefani – The Sweet Escape

From what we’ve read, Gwen Stefani was preparing an EP of L.A.M.B.‘s bananas-lite leftovers. Pharrell thought they could pull off a full-length sequel. And that’s how The Sweet Escape was born. Inspiring, right?

Album two offers more of the same, which two years later is still a love/hate proposition. The beats are bizarre, yet irresistible. The production both antiseptic and progressive. And Gwen’s message (delivered in her signature kewpie cadence) remains anything but oblique. From “Orange County Girl”…

“Pharrell on repeat, make a hurricane in Miami/
Working with him, im gonna get myself another Grammy/
I got the L.A.M.B., and he’s rocking the Ice Creams”

That’s one of the more poetic moments. She usually comes just short of “I’m Gwen Stefani/ And I’m singing a song/ And you’re listening to it right now.” Not that we’re surprised by the lack of lyrical prowess: with its brazenly stupid battle cry (“Take a chance you stupid ho!”) Gwen’s first solo single made is clear we weren’t in Anaheim anymore.

It would’ve been nice if Gwen had at least one new trick up her sleeve. Yodeling doesn’t count. And thank god “Wind It Up” is the collection’s most gimmicky bit. Well, aside from the chorus of “Don’t Get It Twisted,” which rides a vocal line based on “Entrance Of The Gladiators” (you know, the circus music). “Don’t get it twisted/ Don’t get clever /This is the most craziest shit ever,” she rhymes in bombastic chromatic scale, the catchier of Gwen’s two vocal modes. The other is monotone. Both are incorporated into “Yummy,” rumored to be the next single. (More blunt insights there: “I know you?ve been waiting/ But I?ve been out making babies/ And had the chef making donuts and pastries.”) It’s a snooze compared to the infectious ear candy of Escape’s horny title track … think old-school Madonna meets Outkast. Polygamist hip-hop hitman Akon delivers the hook in the form of undeniable woo hoos.

As on L.A.M.B.‘s “Real Thing,” Gwen seems intent on rewriting “Time After Time.” She comes closest to crafting a classic with “Early Winter.” Gwen is less cloying when she’s weepy, and if you’re looking for a piano power ballad you can find a worse co-writer than Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley. “I just really [wanted] it to sound like ‘Eyes Without A Face,'” she recently told Britain’s Sunday Times. It doesn’t. But It’s not bad. Other highlights: the sexy moany chorus of “Fluroscent,” “Breakin’ Up”‘s goth organ grinding, and “U Started It” a slick slice of Prince-y synth-rock.

Otherwise, Sweet Escape is lowest common denominator pop. Fortunately for Gwen’s rep we realize that’s intentional. She knows she’s silly. Unlike, say, Fergie. Gwen paid her dues in a rock band for twenty years, so in some minds she’s earned the opportunity to play the obnoxious skank she’s clearly not. Unlike Fergie.

Bottom line: if you liked the last album, you’ll like this one. We loved about 50% of L.A.M.B., and same this time around, but the tunes that work are homeruns. If you crave some banging singles, as opposed to an artistic statement, you’ll be a satisfied downloader. Plus, whether or not you’re a fan, you gotta admit Stefani and Sakeboard P make some crazy-ass ringtones.

Listen to the whole album before it hits stores (12/5) at AOL now and rank its awesomeness or shittiness on a scale of ten bananas.