By Chuck Arnold Lesley Messer Ralph Novak Chris Strauss
December 18, 2006 12:00 PM

The Sweet Escape


If you went bananas over Love.Angel. Music.Baby., the 2004 hit that established Gwen Stefani as much more than just the girl from No Doubt, then you’ll lap up the candy-coated pop of The Sweet Escape. Although not as hella-good as its predecessor—it mostly sounds more familiar than fresh this time around, and there’s nothing here that should prove as inescapable as “Hollaback Girl”—it cements Stefani’s status as a solo superstar from Hollywood to Harajuku.

Several songs hark back to “Hollaback Girl,” with mixed results: The delicious “Yummy,” with its tribal drums and spacey sound effects, finds Stefani in her B-girl glory, while first single “Wind It Up” is a misguided mishmash of marching-band beats, yodeling and samples from The Sound of Music. When Stefani winds down, though, she does so nicely: The melancholy “Early Winter,” cowritten by Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley, is a sweet escape from the dance floor.