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Gwen Stefani 

Love, Angel, Music, Baby (Interscope)

Gwen Stefani's obsession with material wealth borders on the pathological on Love, Angel, Music, Baby, the No Doubt frontwoman's solo debut: She's got her "million-dollar contract," she wants to "clean out Vivienne Westwood in my Galliano gown," she's "luxurious like Egyptian cotton." This is tiresome rhetoric, particularly from someone who's been able to afford high-end linens since 1995.

So it's fortunate that Stefani's taste in collaborators tends toward the blue-chip: Dr. Dre, the Neptunes, Andre 3000, Dallas Austin, Nellee Hooper, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis all earn producing and writing credits on Love, Angel. The album is a kaleidoscopic megapop picture show, full of freaky color and giddy texture: Opener "What You Waiting For?" is booming Eurotechno almost as beautiful as DJ Sammy's "Heaven," "Hollaback Girl" rides a bleacher-rocking Neptunes beat, "Luxurious" cribs the same schmoove Isley Brothers sample as Biggie Smalls' "Big Poppa."

And as with the last couple of No Doubt records, the tender pop-rock confessionals are disarmingly affecting. In the TLC-ish "Cool," Stefani celebrates her unique friendship with her old lover, No Doubt Bassist Tony Kanal: "Now you call me by my new last name," she sings over chiming synth-guitars. It's a moment rich with pop profundity.

More by Mikael Wood



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