Gwen Stefani’s new solo album is fun and catchy, with cute hooks, hopping beats and a a calm, cool voice. But after listening to it, you’re on to the next album.
This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Stefani’s first solo album in 10 years, isn’t memorable or distinctive — an only-OK batch of pop tunes that don’t reveal much about Stefani.
Though the lyrical content of some of the songs is deep, the album sounds tailor-made for radio, and the songs lack in emotion, originality and personality — usually a specialty of Stefani’s. For all the talk that the album delves into her personal life, it’s hard to tell. The content, even when it’s about heartbreak and ex-husband Gavin Rossdale, has a bubble-gum feel. It’s as if Stefani’s hiding behind the songs’ beat and hook, and her vocal tonality is on cruise control throughout.
The project does have some highlights: “Send Me a Picture,” likely about boyfriend Blake Shelton, sounds more experimental. “Red Flags” and “Asking 4 It,” which features rapper Fetty Wap, are high points, too. But songs like “Naughty” and the singles “Used to Love You” and “Make Me Like You” sound as if another pop star could sing the tracks and you wouldn’t notice the difference. Holla back girl when you make your next album. (Mesfin Fekadu)
The Violent Femmes often sound like their old selves on We Can Do Anything, their ninth studio album and first since 2000. Singer/guitarist Gordon Gano and acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie reunited in 2013 for a Coachella performance of their self-titled debut on the 30th anniversary of its release, having put aside the long feud sparked by Gano’s decision to allow the use of their biggest hit “Blister in the Sun” in a fast food commercial.
Habitual alternation between aggression and vulnerability is a hallmark of the local group’s sound as well as their personalities, and it’s on display frequently in We Can Do Anything. “What You Really Mean” is a real standout, a tender tune about commitment written by Gano’s sister, Cynthia Gayneau. “Holy Ghost” could have fit on the band’s classic debut and sounds like Lou Reed dropped by to sing lead.
Not everything gels. The accordion-driven “I Could Be Anything” is goofy and “Issues” may be too overwrought even for those with an “it’s complicated” relationship status.
Despite three co-writes (rare for Gano), and songs rescued after the long hiatus from decades-old demo cassettes, We Can Do Anything lasts just 31 minutes. It’s quality time. Hopefully the Femmes will be back with another, even better encore. (Pablo Gorodni)
Pete Yorn returns after an extended hiatus with ArrangingTime, his sixth and lushest solo studio album since his 2001 debut. ArrangingTime shares more than just space bar anemia with his debut, musicforthemorningafter. Meticulous producer R. Walt Vincent is back on half of the 12 tracks, and helps out on a wide range of instruments.
Lyrically, there’s a lot of angst, hardly a healthy relationship in sight and the unease can be overwhelming. The melodies are sweet but it’s a bitter delicacy. “Halifax” begins like early R.E.M., “Lost Weekend” has an 80’s synth bass, the melody soars on “In Your Head” and “Screaming at the Setting Sun” is practically danceable, as is “Tomorrow.”
ArrangingTime is Yorn’s debut for Capitol Records, though in this age of hyper-consolidation among labels that may not mean as much as before. What matters more is that Yorn still writes splendid songs, even when his characters are miserable. (Pablo Gorondi)