After one listen it's clear: Gwen Stefani is back.
I don't wish heartbreak on anyone, but if it wasn't for Gwen Stefani's divorce from Gavin Rossdale and her poor success with the bland 2015 releases she conjured up with Pharrell, fans wouldn't get to experience the new and improved artist she blossomed into. Gwen channeled the fury and pain from the breakup into This Is What The Truth Feels Like, which surfaced onto the Internet today (March 16), two days ahead of its March 18 release date. In true Gwen fashion, she didn't harp over the bad times – instead on Truth, she acts rebellious and triumphant, even dedicating a couple of songs to her new flame Blake Shelton.
I took a spin around the digital block and jotted down my initial thoughts upon first listen. I suspect my take on the record would dramatically evolve throughout the weekend after a proper review, but the purpose of this is to share my opinion after limited intake. I think Gwen would appreciate the handwritten notes (and probably not the advance listen), so here goes...
(Note: I didn't review 1. "Misery," 4. "Make Me Like You" or 6. "Used To Love You")
2. You're My Favorite:
"You're My Favorite" is a dreamy lullaby jacked up on quirky synth beats. Out of every vice, Gwen's favorite is the guy that can curb her cravings, and she has a lot of them. "But I've been there, done that, bought it, tried it more than I can count," she sings. "Shook it, stirred it, broke it, smoked it more than I can count." The spiritual transcendence continues through a starry-eyed wonder land. "I'm pretty simple but I have explored," she continues, "always a feeling there could be more."
3. Where Would I Be:
Gwen's sugary sweet tune for "Where Would I Be" is a breezy bop perfect for driving with the windows down. "Where would I be if you didn't love me, boy," she sings over a tropical beat. Her vocals echo and radiate in the chorus then switches to a punching "yeah you puttin in over time / I scored. You are the prize." Gwen briefly tosses it back to her "Hollaback Girl" days with the whistle and Jamaican drums. After all, where would she be without it?
The album title track is a laid-back, mild tune about re-discovering the beauty that comes from falling in love again. It's inspired by her newfound relationship with Blake Shelton, who she thanks for "saving" her." "Something about this feels so right," she sings, "and I'm feeling' it."
7. Send Me A Picture:
"Send Me A Picture" could also see inspiration from Gwen's budding relationship with Shelton. The two are adorably in mad love together, but demands from living the lifestyle of the rich and famous requires them to travel and spend time apart. As we type, Gwen is in Japan while Shelton resides in L.A. filming the new season of The Voice. "Send me a picture / Cause I've been waiting such a time to get you right in front of these eyes," Gwen sings. The song features the pleasant beeps of an incoming text message... hopefully it's that long awaited picture from Shelton.
8. Red Flag:
"Woah! Check it out! Look at you big boy," Gwen asserts in "Red Flag." The track opens up with fragile violins for several seconds before the usual heavy bass stomps in, overshadowing the delicate strings with expensive production. "You know how to screw it up," she sings. "This is your punishment!" Indeed.
9. Asking 4 It featuring Fetty Wap:
I can't understand anything Fetty Wap is saying in the beginning of "Asking 4 It," but it's fine, because Gwen chimes in eventually. She asks "Are you sure you want to love me? You're asking for it and I'm just saying," Gwen sings over an intimidating beat. Fetty's verse sounds awkwardly similar to his hit song "My Way," and will probably get a healthy push from her label Interscope to become a single. Here's to hoping someone produces a Fetty Wap-less version eventually.
"Naughty" has major attitude. It's Gwen's most showy song on the record, starting out with a braggadocious, playful tease: "I see ya hide behind ya glasses / see ya love the shade," she sings. In the best way possible, "Attitude" sounds like a Love. Angel. Music. Baby. leftover (shade). Gwen sasses and finger-wags her way through the cut, gasping and oohing over a haunting chime. A soundbite of her chanting "Oh my God" sounds a little X-rated, a little... naughty.
11. Me Without You:
"Me Without You" is the most empowering cut from the album thus far. Gwen is unapologetically picking herself up in the song after enduring a tumultuous breakup. "No I don't need you. Not a little bit. To myself... I finally admitted it. No I don't need you not a little bit. Get rid of it," she proclaims over a stinging piano and rhythmic clap. "Now I'm me without you," Gwen sings, reminding herself she can love, say and do whatever she wants.
Gwen makes new memories with "Rare" while reminding me of some old ones. It's the only song thus far that I could picture on a No Doubt album because it relies less on electro-synths and clever production and more on live instrumentation. "You're a sapphire, you're a rolling stone, you're a sparkle in a deep black hole," Gwen sings over a lone guitar. For the first time, Gwen offers a rare glimpse at her vulnerable side which, you'd think for an album named This Is What The Truth Feels Like, would reveal itself more often than not. "You're rare and I'm the stupid girl that let it go."
13. Rocket Ship:
Unfortunately, there's a lull when "Rocket Ship" blips on. It sounds promising from the moment the quirky production takes over, but it's weirdness dominates Gwen's vocal range. "Look at me rising I'm not even trying," she sings. The song offers a handful of colorful visual marks that might translate better on tour. Crash-and-burn filler track.
14. Getting Warmer:
This Is What The Truth Feels Like heats up on "Getting Warmer." The song begins as a tinkering ballad where Gwen sings about her ideal, picture-perfect romantic scenario. "Am I getting warmer?," she croons, "Am I getting closer to the sun?" Her breathy vocals get assistance from another video game-inspired breakdown and it's clear, this is no ballad, but a trancey reminder that love is blinding. "Tell me baby... are you the one?" One of my favorites.
"Obsessed" opens with sounds from a thunderstorm before Gwen jumps in, admitting she's pretending to fall in love. "I'm obsessed," she sings with a string of playful na na nas to follow. "Living in a dream don't mean anything. My brain's organized. I'm using you temporarily cause we keep locking eyes," she sings then proclaims, "I'm about to lose my mind." It's the first instance the word "anthem" popped into my mind thus far. WHAT!
Designed to be a fan-favorite, "Splash" will burst into your brain with calculated ease. The song is a finely manicured pop bop about diving head first into a relationship without a second thought. The tune takes a left turn when a series of electro horns fizzle into glitchy soundbites lifted from a Street Fighter video game before diving back into the chorus. "All the energy's bringing me right back to you," Gwen sings. "Splash. I'm diving in."
"Loveable" is a vibey, mid-tempo track about bouncing back from a destroyed love with someone new. "This is crazy I knew it I knew it all along," Gwen reassures herself over a bassy beat and pulsating electro synths. "You gon'g miss me when I'm gone."