If truth is the name of the game here, then here’s a very solid confession from our own camp: we fully expected this to be shit. Not for hating on Gwen Stefani, but let’s face it – between the last album and that woeful No Doubt reunion, the odds haven’t been particularly exciting.
But This Is What The Truth Feels Like is an album that owns its candour in more than just its title. Between a messy divorce and a brand new romance, it sort of sits between the soul-baring of a heartbreak album and the giddy joy of a honeymoon period, making this the most human Stefani has sounded in a long time.
It helps that the production – largely falling between Greg Kurstin and Mattman & Robin – is ridiculously easy on the ear. Opening with Misery, there’s an odd satisfaction for both us and Stefani in being able to sway to lines of utter despondency. Where Would I Be?, meanwhile, is one of her finest tracks in an age, a bouncy jam that takes in a trap-led bridge, A-grade pop chorus, and a bit of classic Stefani cheerleading.
Even at its stubbornly mid-tempo pace, the whole thing does admittedly feel like Stefani has been liberated from something, whether that’s a marriage, a band, or creative shackles. She’s reserved in her excitement at times – Make Me Like You is a quieter performance for what could be a big disco hit – but when she lets loose on a song like Used To Love You the emotion really comes through. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing ground-breaking here in either sonics or lyrics, but it’s just rather pleasant to hear Stefani back in the game again with utmost earnestness.
What’s still keenly missed, however, is the spike that propelled her to stardom in the first place. Sure, the missives on songs like Truth are tart enough (“they’re all gonna say I’m rebounding”) but it seems like a younger Stefani would have stomped all over it sans apology. But this is her account of truth, her confessional record, and it feels like a catharsis that needed to happen – we just hope that now she’s got it out of her system, we can get back the fiery Gwen Stefani we know and love.