Originally created 11/22/04

Gwen Stefani takes ill-advised retro turn

Gwen Stefani's solo debut is pointless pop.

The No Doubt front woman has left her Madness-loving band mates behind for more Lisa Lisa inspired fare on her first solo CD. Although "Love, Angel, Music, Baby" (Interscope) is chocked full of intense roller rink synth beats, this nostalgic 1980s new wave trip is just a little too kitsch.

"Bubble Pop Electric" is an 8-bit Atari video game soundtrack after five bowls of Lucky Charms mixed with espresso. And the bleacher-pounding beat in the hip-hop pep rally mutation "Hollaback" isn't ghetto fabulous. It's just annoying.

Only when Stefani blends the brashness with emotion does she truly succeed. "Cool" is filled with honest lyrics and a contagious-cooing chorus. The frenetically robotic but heavy-handed "Long Way to Go," Stefani's duet with OutKast's Andre 3000, asks, "What color is love?" It's futuristic on many levels.

Other than the multifaceted "Danger Zone" and "The Real Thing," which features - oh yes - New Order, most of Stefani's tunes are one-trick ponies that lack a climax, which is upsetting considering the likes of The Neptunes, Dallas Austin, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Linda Perry helped to craft this 12-track launch.

Luckily, Stefani's powerful but playful voice retains its robustness throughout the disc, even when punctuated with cheeky sound effects like meowing on "Harajuku Girls" and breathy moaning "What You Waiting For." There's an overly obvious injection of the sort of Japanese pop aesthetic that's kept Hello Kitty merchandise flying off store shelves for 30 years.

"Love, Angel, Music, Baby" is nowhere near as groundbreaking as No Doubt's 1995 debut "Tragic Kingdom," which helped resurrect ska and made Stefani a cover gal of Blondie-like proportions. It's merely a fun listen.

But that's probably Stefani's point.


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