By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
"Hollaback Girl" lights incense at the shrine of Toni "Hey Mickey" Basil, with the ubiquitous Neptunes providing a marching band’s looped drum & horn play as the thread for a funky cloak that imbues Stefani’s pinched white-girl vocals with barked attitude. Somewhere Kelis is throwing her milkshake against a wall in frustration; her Tasty CD from earlier this year similarly shared the Neptunes and André 3000 as producers. It also had a more-than-similar, all-over-the-map musical approach, complete with an ’80s throwback at its center, but it’s a given that Stefani’s sales, media profile and chart numbers will easily dwarf Kelis’ effort.
The fantastic "Serious" is as much a nod to the once abundant Latin Freestyle/electro-synth garbed Madonnabees as it is to "Borderline"/Jellybean Benitez–era Madonna herself. The drum machine, Chic-derived guitar and sassily delivered lyrics during the bridge are a stellar fusion of elements, tailor-made for dance-floor acting out. "Harajuku Girls," an ode to Japanese youth culture’s consumerism, love of designer fashion and fetish for pricey gadgets consolidates the product placement and name dropping that appears throughout the album, especially on the sample-driven R&B spliff "Luxurious." That last number floats atop a purposefully over-familiar lift from the Isley Brothers’ "Between the Sheets" (think Biggie) and, in flawless duplication of the crude hip-hop/soul love songs that have taken over R&B, filters romantic desire through the language of crass materialism. It’s laugh-out-loud funny for being played almost completely straight — especially the French-spoken intro.
The most immediately affecting song on the album — produced by Dallas Austin, channeling the new-wave gods with a true believer’s devotion (and with an assist from Nellee Hooper) — is "Cool." It’s the latest installation in the ongoing saga of Stefani and ex-boyfriend/still-bandmate, Tony Kanal. With their shattered relationship already being the stuff of many of No Doubt’s best songs — "Don’t Speak," "Simple Kind of Life," "Ex-Girlfriend" — the new song tips a sonic hat to the Cars as Stefani coos lyrics that are both bruised and juiced by the fact of her maintaining a friendship with her former greatest-love-of-all as she embarks on a life with her true true love (husband Gavin Rossdale). In "Cool," Kanal brings his new lady around to meet Stefani, now a dear friend, and the vibe is all love. This is the stuff of not just grown-up life but hard-earned maturity. The two are not mutually exclusive, but they’re far from synonymous and Stefani’s vocals brim with a tenderness that underlines her transition from brokenhearted girl to a woman who’s figured some real shit out: After all the obstacles, it’s good to see you now with someone else/After all that we’ve been through, I know we’re cool.
The only real dud is the closing number, "Long Way To Go," featuring the second vocal and production appearances by André 3000 (billed as Johnny Vulture on the frenetic electro explosion "Bubble Pop Electric"). The duet should have been the 21st-century equivalent of Prince meeting Madonna on "Love Song" from her Like a Prayer album. Not only has L.A.M.B., by this point, been clearly building toward a show-stopping finale but André and Stefani are arguably at the same career zeniths that their musical forbears were when they hooked up in the studio. Instead, this lament at the bigotries faced by interracial couples is a clunky, less cool spinoff of INXS’s "Original Sin." It ultimately collapses beneath the thick, cloying vibe of self-importance that wafts from it.
Overall, though, there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to the record, a certain playfulness even in the tunes of moody contemplation. The album bottles the giggly fizz of rifling through your old clothes and photos, trying on assorted past selves that are not yet weighed with disappointment and compromise. Stefani’s neatest trick may well be that, despite being a hugely successful corporate commodity by aim and hard work, and having long ago ceased pining for the simple life, she’s still able to set aside the spreadsheet to reveal the human being at the wheel.
Gwen Stefani | Love. Angel. Music. Baby. | Interscope Records