Thirteen years ago, Gwen Stefani released her classic debut solo album “Love.Angel.Music.Baby.” A radical departure from the sound of her ska band No Doubt, it received criticism for being too mainstream, while Gwen was consequently labeled a sellout. Despite this, it was a huge critical and commercial success. It sold over 7 million copies since its 2004 release and was nominated for six Grammys, including Album of The Year. Gwen set the musical trends for pop music released during the decade. Thirteen years later, the record still sounds as fresh as it did in 2004.
“What You Waiting For”: The album opens up with a lead single. It’s the only song on the record with heavy elements of rock, which is a smart way to ease No Doubt fans into the project. Gwen isn’t a great vocalist, but that doesn’t matter. She emotes perfectly and sounds frantic as she breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to listeners about the struggle of starting a solo career. She even identifies the sexism and ageism she knows she’ll face as a woman in her 30s starting a solo career, singing ”Your moment will run out cause’ of your sex chromosome / I know it’s so messed up how our society all thinks.” The song is smart and self-aware, starting the album on a high note.
“Rich Girl”: If “What You Waiting For” eased listeners into her new sound, the next track, featuring previous collaborator Eve, pushes us in full force. It, like the album as a whole, is pop perfection. The sample of “Rich Girl,” Louchie Lou & Michie One’s adaptation of the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof” is used masterfully to create one of the catchiest hooks in music history. The “na na nas” are inescapable. While the theme of love regardless of status is overdone, Gwen and Eve, as well as production by Dr. Dre keep the song fresh and current.
“Hollaback Girl”: While without a doubt the biggest hit on the record, “Hollaback Girl” is the most shameless and immature. It’s jarring to hear a woman in her 30s sing about high school and cheerleaders. The song fails at being a Courtney Love diss track, its original intent, but succeeds at being danceable. The first song to sell a million digital downloads, it’s not hard to see why. It’s catchy, but that’s about it. It did shape the sound of the decade, however, as artists like Fergie (with “Fergalicious”) and Nelly Furtado (with “Promiscuous”) carried on the sing/talk trend. More recently, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” used a drumline and cheerleader concept very similar to “Hollaback Girl”, but to a lesser effect.
“Cool”: If any song on the album deserved the success of “Hollaback Girl”, it’s ““Cool”.” It’s a flawless ballad about a resolved love triangle. The song is the resolution to ““Don’t Speak””, which is arguably the greatest breakup song of all time. Gwen’s vocals add to the perfection of the song, and leaves listeners wondering if her and her ex-lover are really just “cool”, or if there’s more that she’s not letting on.
“Bubble Pop Electric”: Bubble Pop Electric is another highlight on the album. Featuring Andre 3000 as his alter ego Johnny Vulture, it tells the story of a girl losing her virginity in the backseat of a car at a drive- in movie theater. It’s not extremely abrasive lyrically, as the sexual innuendo is hidden expertly within the title. The chorus is slightly more telling (““Tonight I’m gonna give you all my love in the backseat””). It has a 60s throwback sound that adds to the lyrics nicely. The only disappointing thing about this song is that it was never released as a single.
“Luxurious”: If Madonna’s “Material Girl” was a mediocre flop, it would be “Luxurious”.
“Harajuku Girls”: Produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who have produced Janet Jackson’s best material, “Harajuku Girls” is another great song. It’s strange and fascinating, like the Harajuku fashion Gwen is celebrating. While the lyrics may come off racist to some, they aren’t. Gwen is giving credit to the women who have inspired her fashion and music, which isn’t cultural appropriation, it’s cultural appreciation.
“Crash”: Inspired by Salt-N-Pepa, “Crash” is good, but not great. It uses car like synths and car references as euphemisms for sex (““Crash into me real hard””). While “Crash” is far better than “Luxurious”, it’s not as good as a majority of the earlier tracks.
“Serious”: A perfect blend of Madonna and Kylie Minogue, “Serious” is 80s throwback at its best. “Love.Angel.Music.Baby.” is an 80s inspired record, after all, and no song captures that as well as “Serious”.
“The Real Thing”: A ballad that is very reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna’s early work, “The Real Thing” is a more modern “Time After Time”. It’s the best ballad on the album after “Cool”.
“Danger Zone”: Lyrically one of the most interesting songs on the record, “Danger Zone” centers around the lies Gwen has been told and how it negatively affects her.
“Long Way To Go”: The only political song on the album, making it the closing track was a very good idea. Its placement means that it doesn’t ruin the lightheartedness of the album midway. On the song, Gwen and Andre 3000 sing about interracial relationships, and how love is colorblind. It features a sample of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The sample, as well as the song in general, is strange, and a white woman using Dr. King’s speech is questionable. It’s comparable to Harajuku Girls, as they both speak on culture, although she is praising it in the latter and criticizing it here. However, the song is good in terms of production, and Gwen obviously meant well. It’s not the best song, but it’s not the worst.