Gwen Stefani-The Sweet Escape 

Interscope

Surely no one could've predicted the force with which ska-pop sprite Gwen Stefani's 2004's solo debut, "Love.Angel.Music.Baby." would hit, loaded as it was with Eighties-shaded tunes, a devastating sense of style and a chart-smashing monster known as "Hollaback Girl." Two years later, Stefani is already dropping "The Sweet Escape," her erratic sophomore effort. Whereas "L.A.M.B." positioned Stefani as a Material Girl for the double aughts, "The Sweet Escape" finds her stumbling, eschewing slick Roxette homages for a polyglot pop sound that meshes a mélange of genres to middling effect.
 
The highs are undeniable' "Wind It Up," "Early Winter" and "4 in the Morning"' as are the lows: "Orange County Girl" opens with the line "Don't know what I'm doing in the studio" and "Yummy" was beaten to the punch by Fergie's execrable "Fergalicious." Perhaps Stefani needed to let "L.A.M.B." lie a bit longer before attempting to change it up again; "The Sweet Escape" is precisely what you'll need after spinning this one. 
 
- Preston Jones

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