Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (Interscope)
The first question is why? It's not as if Gwen Stefani couldn't have made Love. Angel. Music. Baby. with No Doubt, the SoCal act that's transcended its ska beginnings to become a stadium-size sensation. In many ways, this solo debut picks up right where her full-time project left off. Last we heard from No Doubt, it was packing dance clubs with the supersexed, beat-fortified bumper "Hella Good", a song that made it clear the band was more interested in blinged-out club kids than Vespa riders. Love. Angel. Music. Baby. brings on the floor-shaking funk with just as much vengeance, but, because Stefani has one of the most distinctive voices in show business, it sounds a lot like, well, No Doubt.
That's not the worst thing. Guided by a heavy-hitting cabal of hip-hop producers (Dr. Dre, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the Neptunes, OutKast's Andre 3000), Stefani stampedes for the dance floor. After starting out with delicate piano and lounge-lizard vocals, the lead-off track, "What You Waiting For?" explodes into a state-of-the-art new-wave raver. Over buzz-bomb synths, a rock-steady beat, and straight-from-Tokyo dialogue samples, Stefani scores major cool points with lines like "You Harajuku girls/Damn you've got some wicked style". Just as tasty is the Dre-helmed "Rich Girl", in which Ms. Gavin Rossdale, after dreaming of cleaning out Vivienne Westwood's warehouse, teams up with Eve for an infectious ladies-night ass shaker.
Stefani has stated that one of her goals with Love. Angel. Music. Baby. was to pay tribute to where she comes from musically. And, yes, there's more to her than a 2-Tone suit. Unmistakably a child of the '80s, she dives headfirst into retro cheese-pop ("Cool"), slinkily slick R&B ("Luxurious"), and robotic electroclash ("Crash").
Add a surprisingly soulful duet with Andre 3000--titled "Long Way to Go"--and Stefani has come up with the kind of solo album that gets singers thinking that maybe they don't need a backing band after all. Her fellow No Doubters no doubt realized who the star of the show was long ago--for proof of that, check out the video for "Don't Speak". And if they didn't, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. is definitely going to drive things home.