Record Rewind: Gwen Stefani – Love. Angel. Music. Baby
It’s hard to believe that just over a decade ago No Doubt sweetheart Gwen Stefani went solo, and she shouldn’t have been worried if she could have predicted the increased success it brought her. ND wrapped up 2003 with the release of their singles collection and officially went on hiatus after their tour with Blink 182 in mid-2004, meanwhile Gwen was busily working on her first solo venture; nearly one year after the previous No Doubt release, Love. Angel. Music. Baby was born. It was hard to know what to expect from the ska/rock front woman, be it her own take on the ever changing sound of No Doubt or whether she would branch out one hundred percent and serve the airwaves something fresh and new; in an interview with Cosmopolitan in June 2004, Gwen hinted that her solo album would be an 80’s inspired retro dance album. Not only was L.A.M.B the name of the album, but it is what could easily be described as a cheeky bit of product placement on Gwen’s behalf, it shares the name of her highly acclaimed fashion label; she used to call her old dog Lamb as it would follow her where she would go, so there is sentimental value to the name and its anagram. We thought it would be a great opportunity to turn back the clock to L.A.M.B as she is getting ready to release her third studio album in 2015.
Tears, fears and writer’s block hounded Stefani during the creative process for L.A.M.B with a reluctance to commence writing so soon after a massive world tour with No Doubt, as well as pressures exerted by her label; she also had a deep longing to spend time with her rocker husband Gavin Rossdale, plus a yearning to start a family. Teaming up with ‘songwriter for the stars’ Linda Perry, the album’s addictively memorable lead single What You Waiting For? was born from the starlet’s woes and angst; the track begins with her reminiscing over her time with the band, she is soon heard arguing with herself, “naturally I’m worried if I do it alone/who really cares ’cause it’s your life you never know it could be great“, cleverly written and executed, its Alice In Wonderland inspired video also helped make it one of 2004’s most memorable songs. A handful of writers, hip/hop goddess Eve and Dr Dre were called in to roll out Rich Girl, another adaptation of Rich Man from the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof; the track was commercially a success despite having mixed reviews, its reggae fuelled guitar brings us back to No Doubt’s Jamaican vibe flowing through the veins of Rock Steady.
As influential as Gwen’s new signature solo sound was (and still is), she was also breaking records with it, L.A.M.B‘s third single Hollaback Girl became the first digital download to sell one million units; Pharrell Williams has a writing credit, this guy’s been on the pop writing scene for a while now, and the song’s cheerleader chanting theme was derived from a comment by Courtney Love who labelled Stefani as a ‘cheerleader’: “But I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She’s the cheerleader, and I’m out in the smoker shed”. Gwen’s response was to write a song in the style of a chant with some thrown in attitude, and boy did she own it; much of the concept of No Doubt’s breakthrough album Tragic Kingdom was based on the end of Stefani’s relationship with bandmate Tony Kanal, she helped songwriter Dallas Austin finish up his ND inspired tune by reflecting on her current relationship with Kanal, resulting in the ballad and fourth single Cool. Deep and bassy synths assist the talking introduction between Gwen and producer Johnny Vulture for the bubbly Bubble Pop Electric, the rapid constant popping of bubbles resonating throughout the track help make it an interesting listen; there were unsuccessful moments for the album too, fifth single Luxurious charted but not as high as its predecessors, even with Stefani’s seductively addictive trills for her love in the form of Gwen-pop.
Gwen has mountains of fans, but she is a fan herself, as mentioned before her fashion line is heavily insipired by the world of Harajuku, she dedicated the song Harajuku Girls on the album to the Japanase girls of that fashion world and managed to name drop her own fashion label; listening to this album you should realise just how fantastically poppy it is, No Doubt were already starting to lean more towards the mainstream sort of sound, but Gwen really took that sound and ran with it. During one of her breakdowns during the process of making L.A.M.B, Tony Kanal invited her over to work on some music to get the ball rolling, the result was the electroclash influenced sixth single Crash, although it didn’t serve very well as the final single it is by far one of the catchiest of the upbeat tracks featured on the album. The cheesiest moment on the album was the synth-pop ballad The Real Thing, it’s sappy lyrics aren’t enough to stop you from singing along to it though, so obviously something else done right with the album; move over Madonna, Gwen gives your 80’s music style a little bit of a shot with the synth pop Serious, another catchy melody and addictive arrangement from the platinum blonde star. Shamelessly a dancey pop album, L.A.M.B gives itself a bit of a break by leaning a little more towards the pop/rock genre in Danger Zone, it’s not easy to grow bored with this track as the melody consistently changes as the song goes on; the album is wrapped up by Long Way To Go featuring Outkast’s Andre 3000, it was a reject from his album The Love Below and touches on the controversy that still surrounds interracial dating today, questioning ‘what colour is love?’ in its bridge.
It’s not hard to look back at Love. Angel. Music. Baby with some form of fondness, whether that be of Gwen Stefani’s style as a singer/songwriter or as one of today’s icons of fashion, but there are moments when you still question where Gwen was going with her solo effort and why; she would namedrop her own fashion label where she could, it could come across as confusing whether she was the biggest fan of her Harajuku Girls or if they were her biggest obsession, and many fans of No Doubt could be seen cringing at her solo work as she completely strayed from the sound young and impressionable 80’s/90’s kids grew up listening to. Overall her effort was commendable as she created her own brand and sound, L.A.M.B sold well not only because of her existing fan base from her world renowned ska/rock act, but because she was doing something completely right and slightly different in the world of pop; out of her two solo albums to date, it is the most influential and memorable, The Sweet Escape (2006) didn’t cut it like its predecessor and fell too deep into the well of generic pop music. It won’t be long until Gwen releases album number three, so far the singles have been promising, but it’s going to be very hard to hollaback and make as much of an impact as Love. Angel. Music. Baby did way back in 2004.