On her second album, the music and fashion icon takes you on a wild musical and visual ride featuring some of the most creative collaborators of our time, including Pharrel Williams, Nellee Hooper, Tim Nice-Oxley Of Keane and Tony Kanal Of No Doubt. Other contributors to the album include Akon, Sean Garrett, Swizz Beatz, Dave Stewart and Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley. This album is surprisingly different than the last one. "I started recording it last year before Kingston was born and it's definitely evolved over the last year. The dance sound is very `now.' It's modern not so retro," says the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter.
There's nothing like a Gwen Stefani disc to rip you from your pop comfort zone and, in the pleasantest way possible, knock you around a bit. On The Sweet Escape, the blows arrive roughly every four minutes: a yodel ("Wind It Up") skitters off ceremoniously before the title track, featuring Akon, catches you off guard with its infectious yelps of "Woo-hoo, YEE-hoo!," and the pouty rap of "Orange County Girl" has barely petered out before we're vectored somewhere back toward the '80s with the indie rock-ish "Early Winter." That the sound of these songs doesn't follow a formula--that they pounce wherever they please, without regard for genres or decades--is no big whoop; this is Gwen Stefani, after all, and her up-for-anything, play-along fans probably wouldn't have it any other way. More surprising is the extent to which Stefani inserts what seems to be her genuine self into the music: "4 in the Morning," a Madonna-reminiscent midtempo groover, drops the wide-eyed Betty Boop pose and basks in a rarely plumbed depth of feeling ("I give you everything that I am / I'm handing over everything that I've got / 'cause I wanna have a really true love," she sings with something like sincerity). A single track later, she's owning up to motherhood in the sexiest, most unapologetic way possible: "I know you've been waiting," she pants, "but I've been off making babies / And like a chef making donuts and pastries / It's time to make you sweat." Lyrics don't get much cleverer than the ones to "Breakin' Up," a kiss-off disguised as a dropped cell phone call, and sounds don't get much swizzier than the ones on "Now That You Got It." Which is to say that Gwen's got game--as much as on Love.Angel.Music.Baby, if not more--and that anytime she's prepared to hollaback, the world will do well to listen. --Tammy La Gorce