After more than a 10 year hiatus from the music stage, during which time she was a judge on The Voice, made a few guest appearances on the stage and recently separated from Gavin Rossdale, Gwen Stefani returns with a fresh and deeply personal third solo album, in which she is not afraid to expose the truth behind recent emotional upheaval in her life. But beyond the relationship’s dissolution, which seems to be the direct inspiration for the album, This Is What the Truth Feels Like  is a stark confession and a stellar return for the pop singer.

‘This Is What The Truth Feels Like’ by Gwen Stefani Album Review

This Is What the Truth Feels Like is clearly much more about narrative, about the singer communicating and coping with the heartbreak that inspired the record. The songs depict various stages of either budding love or the dissolution of a relationship. For example, on opener “Misery” Stefani sings, “Put me outta my misery.” A couple of more songs follow in that same vein of despair and pain, yet the album also offers a great deal of hopefulness in the songs inspired by newfound love as a way to overcome heartbreak.

Of those some carry a more provocative atmosphere such as “You’re My Favorite,” where Stefani sings in the pre-chorus: “I’ve been there, done that, buyed it, tried it / More than I can count / Shook it, stirred it, broke it, smoked it / More than I can count / Oh, but out of everything, you’re my favorite.” And there are also tracks on which the singer exposes her raw emotion in the most humble and genuine way. “Truth,” for example, is one such track that clearly originates from a deep, tender place, yet it it is on the verge of being excessively coy and sugary.

Stylistically, the album takes a few sharp turns and doesn’t easily bear categorization — it covers a wide range from electro-pop to low-key reggae and anything in between. This lack of cohesion actually ends up working in Stefani’s favor. The universal experience and heartbreak she is describing is communicated through Stefani’s unique dynamic and glimpses of ingenuity. At the same time the shifting musical style may simply be a guise for the lack of anything truly inspiring. Stefani has always been able to distort the pop genre just enough to make it uniquely her own, which is still true, but at the same time This Is What the Truth Feels Like fails to offer anything to be excited about. The album rather falls back on the safety net of synths and mellow lines with only the occasional spark of something new, making the album as individually personal as it is commercial.

This Is What the Truth Feels Like seems like the kind of work of art that is shared with the world out of necessity. In and of itself, it may not have as profound an influence at least musically, but its value ultimately lies with the story it tells. Stefani’s return is easy to listen and relate to, but what the record has in energy, candidness and narrative, it lacks in musical inventiveness.

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