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Like that of her spiritual mommies Madonna and Debbie Harry, Gwen Stefani’s appeal knows few boundaries. Credit a comfort level with “exotic” subcultures (and the savvy to tweak them for the masses), bottle-blond hair, and a mixture of cool and accessible. The latter is abundant in Gwen’s confessional lyrics. Her band might be No Doubt, but naked admissions like “Simple Kind of Life” ‘s “Sometimes I wish for a mistake” suggest that Gwen is riddled with anxiety. Those neurotic touches are endearing, and indicate that—despite money, looks, and style—Gwen probably checks out her ass in her Galliano jeans and asks, “Gavin? Do these make me look fat?”
“What You Waiting For?,” the first single from Love.Angel.Music.Baby, proves Gwen is still not riding her own (metaphoric) dick. Set to a double-shot-espresso beat and accented by giddy, yodeling vocals à la Lene “New Toy” Lovich, “What You Waiting For?” may be the first song in which the chick calls herself a stupid ‘ho. A new wave adrenaline rush disguised as a therapy session, the song was produced by Nellee Hooper and co-written by girlpop master Linda Perry, just two of many big players on board. Other collaborators include Dallas Austin, the Neptunes (the hard-banging, stripped-down foot stomper “Hollaback Girl”), and Dr. Dre, whose unlikely blend of hip-hop, dancehall, and Fiddler on the Roof makes “Rich Girl” straight-up Yiddishe yo mama.
Yet despite a few forays into remix territory, Gwen’s real inspiration here is the luxurious synths and club grooves of the Reagan era. And while LAMB is adventurous and playful—with nary a ska-punk riddim to be found—it’s when Gwen reaches back and goes totally ’80s that the CD reverberates with unwavering charm. Peppered throughout the disc are sonic valentines to Lisa Lisa, Human League, Stacey Q, John Waite, Missing Persons, and Exposé. The Hooper-produced “The Real Thing” not only screams out New Order in the best possible way, but features half of the group, while a duet with Andre 3000 on the revved-up and whacked-out “Bubble Pop Electric” is pure Travolta-Newton-John in Grease, albeit on mushrooms. The dear-diary nostalgia combo gives LAMB a guileless intimacy almost unheard of in big-name solo projects—as though Gwen wants to shine, but not if it means big-upping herself too much. Even with her name on the disc she keeps it humble, reinforcing her position as pop’s nicest icon next door.