If there’s a moment that sums up why Gwen Stefani is so eternally beloved, it’s the surreal scene from The Voice last fall when she led her team through New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” in a swirl of confetti. Only Stefani could sound so perky while threatening to kick Marilyn Manson’s ass in. This is the first solo album in a decade from one of the Nineties’ most improbably long-running superstars – the dowager countess of our nation’s ska moms.
Stefani hasn’t had much spare time since the last No Doubt album, in late 2012; she’s had another baby, joined The Voice, divorced Gavin Rossdale and jumped into a high-profile tabloid romance with Voice co-star Blake Shelton. So maybe it’s not surprising that the album has a rushed feel – a likable but low-personality version of her familiar bubble-pop solo mode, alternating between miffed breakup plaints (the Amy Winehouse tribute “Naughty”) and gushy new-boyfriend songs. In “Send Me a Picture,” Stefani tries to figure out this whole sexting thing the kids are into, begging her man, “Wanna see you right now with no filter/Take another snapshot in the mirror.” But the strongest song here is the simplest: “Truth,” where Stefani faces her future over a straightforward guitar hook and says, “They’re all gonna say I’m rebounding, so rebound all over me.”