Gwen Stefani’s solo music career has been in a strange place for the past decade. With no signs of another solo venture after the release of The Sweet Escape and an eventual reunion with No Doubt taking place six years later, it seemed like her own career was finally off the table. Even when she returned with the singles Baby Don’t Lie and Spark the Fire in 2014, it seemed like she had scrapped the releases without any warning. Now that she’s back with This Is What the Truth Feels Like, however, it almost feels like she never left.
Baby Don’t Lie and Spark the Fire are noticeably absent from This Is What the Truth Feels Like, but their absence is largely a nonissue. The synthpop ballad Used To Love You and the unexpectedly heartfelt lyricism of Misery are a much better depiction of the album’s themes, though more in their themes rather than sound; all possible aspects of relationships and love can be found at the heart of each track. In truth, the first six tracks aren’t much of a stylistic indication for the album at all; Truth stands out as one of the strongest songs on the album with its mid-tempo pop balladry skirting close to Used To Love You, but still remains in contrast to what follows.
The remaining two thirds of the album feel much more like classic Stefani tracks. Send Me a Picture throws back to the ragga stylings explored on Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and No Doubt’s Rock Steady, while Naughty mixes simple piano verses with bratty hip hop choruses, channelling her earlier attitude rather than sound. Mid-tempo ballads and urban tracks litter the album, which is a welcome addition given the album’s singles; despite their strength, they hinted at a very much different side of Gwen, and these tracks tie them back into her concept perfectly.
Funnily enough, the album’s bonus tracks do the most to give the album that Stefani element that truly sells it. Rocket Ship’s melodic use of vocal samples and solid hip hop arrangement are extremely tight, and make for the album’s shining track in terms of production techniques and appeal. The bratty vocals and hip hop style return on Obsessed, but mix it with a helping of noise pop that makes it feel even more unique in contrast to Rocket Ship’s more melodic focus.
Barring the unfortunately messy featured track with Fetty Wap, the album never really hits a weak spot. This Is What the Truth Feels Like feels satisfying from the perspective of an old school Stefani fan, and offers enough fresh material to make the uninitiated modern listeners fall for her of their own accord. Given the rocky state of her solo career up to this point, it’s a miracle that another Gwen Stefani album managed to see the light of day. That This Is What the Truth Feels Like turned out as such an amazing piece of work is just the cherry on top.