(This text is from 2017 and was originally written in Swedish. It’s translated with DeepL)
Gwen Stefani first became known as the singer of the ska/punk/rock band No Doubt, with their heyday in the second half of the 90s. In 1995 they released the album “The Tragic Kingdom”, after doing a number of lesser known works and making a name for themselves in the California skapunk scene. Gwen was the charismatic lead singer and frontwoman. She was cool, indie and alternative. Which is precisely why it was so strange when, a few years later, in 2004, she released “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.”, the debut dance-pop solo album, which marked a clear turn in her career.
She became “mainstream.” A transition that is rarely a good sign for die-hard “fans”. Going from cool and indie to commercial and watered-down may sound like a change no one benefits from at a first glance, if you think danceable pop music always is commercial crap done by sell-outs and salesmen. But if you see it from another angle, how cool isn’t it to risk all your cred to do what you feel like doing in the moment? Maybe you feel like singing “this shit is bananas” and then spelling out the last word according to the famous spelling B-A-N-A-N-A-S. That particular quote from “Hollaback Girl” is a symbol for all those weird ideas you have in your head that you think “why do it? it will be weird” about. And then you don’t do anything with them. But Gwen does, and it’s also pretty much the only thing she does in the whole album “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” That’s what’s so great about the album. The spontaneity, the playfulness and the lack of depth, which gives a lot of space to the superficial parts of the world, which are often not taken seriously. No truths or clever rhymes are allowed in the lyrics, because then you wouldn’t be able to fit in all the stupid stuff!
Listening through the album, you’ll hear some nice 80s influences, an attempt at 90s Salt-N-Pepa style rap, a very odd tribute to the stylistically innovative “Harajuku” district of Tokyo, some really loopy and nice electropop bits, and some attempts at hip-hop and RNB. Often when I listen to music I think: “Okay. I get it.” But listening to these songs I think: “What are you doing, and why? I don’t get it. But sure, we’ll see what happens!”. Gwen is out and about in all sorts of ways, for example on her live performances she brings four Japanese female dancers, given the names “Love”, “Angel”, “Music” and “Baby”, whose job it is to be dancing mascots and say nothing throughout the concert. It seems that during this era, Gwen was as ruthlessly obsessed with cute Japanese culture as rappers are with mentioning that they like rap. It’s hard to know if she crosses the line or not, and it’s also hard to know what line we’re talking about. It’s just weird, which I choose to see as delightful and exciting, despite the fact that many others have chosen to see it in other ways.
A lot of the awesome songs you’ve listened to in your life you can easily get bored of after a few listens, as you learn all the notes, words and twists in the song, and your brain isn’t stimulated by the music anymore. If you’re lucky, however, you’ll find songs that are the opposite. That’s how it was for me with L.A.M.B. This album grows with every listen. In the beginning, you have to go in with positivity and curiosity and give it a chance, because at first listen it can sound like any other pop album. That’s what’s a bit tricky about the album. The thing about superficial pop is that it has to lull the listener in with accessible melodies and a hypnotic chorus so that they will undoubtedly get what’s going on, and hopefully not turn the song off. After a few listens, however, it’s clear that the song isn’t very much more than a repetitive chorus with a high recognition factor. But “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” doesn’t work like that. It gets better every time you listen. This is a testament to the fact that L.A.M.B. is not an easily digestible pop album, but it is simply a great music album.