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More time needed to incubate

Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 31, 2007
Gwen Stefani

Review by Andy Argyrakis

Though she was originally known as the ska princess turned dance rocker fronting No Doubt, Gwen Stefani has certainly established herself outside of the group's shadow. Her solo 2004 debut Love.Angel.Music.Baby. stormed the charts, the subsequent tour sold out in practically every city and the diva in the making became a media darling. Aside from the adorable album (with several slices of attitude packed tightly into her handbag), the singer/songwriter ventured into acting, shirt designing and even doll making, not to mention becoming a mother with her celebrity super husband Gavin Rossdale (Bush, Institute).

With all the extracurriculars, it's a miracle The Sweet Escape followed just over two years later, though it understandably suffers as a result of the distractions. For fans of the previous project, this new disc offers ample supplies of high octane sugar pop, reggae infused rock and dance floor packers, but they appear somewhat recycled from the last go around. The rush is especially evident on the opening track "Wind It Up," a thumping rave up that opens with Stefani's bizarre (and unfortunate) attempt at yodeling. The title cut (with a cameo by Akon) follows in a similarly infectious vein to previous singles "Hollaback Girl" and "Cool," but can't quite match or surpass either's immediacy.

"4 In the Morning" is a straight ahead alternative pop ditty, but rather than basking in her own vocal charisma, this track could easily have been a late 80s Madonna outtake. She also channels Madge on "Wonderful Life," which follows the pulsating pattern of her Confessions era crossed with the keyboard glow of Real Life's "Send Me An Angel." On a slightly more original note, "Yummy" is a percussion slapped snack that merges Stefani's oozing sexuality with her duet partner Pharrell's soulful struts. The track is produced by The Neptunes, who add a rich but minimalist skeleton simultaneously suitable for the nightclub and bedroom. Even so, The Sweet Escape is merely a sweet but far from spectacular follow-up to Love.Angel.Music.Baby. that could've clearly benefited from a little more time to incubate.

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