It was perhaps inevitable that Gwen Stefani’s divorce from Gavin Rossdale would inspire her to write a breakup record. And so it’s unsurprising that on This Is What The Truth Feels Like, the No Doubt vocalist’s third solo album and first since 2006’s The Sweet Escape, she gets the occasional dig in at her ex. “Naughty”—a genre whirlwind blending early No Doubt’s theatrical exaggeration, bratty new wave, and hip-hop swagger—chides someone for keeping secrets; the electropop ballad “Used To Love You” faces the fact that a relationship is over; and the hip-hop-tinted “Me Without You” embraces a new life without a toxic partner.
Stefani never gets too juicy with the details, but her zings and observations are subtle enough to make these songs resonate deeply. The same can’t be said for This Is What The Truth Feels Like’s love songs, which emerged as she began a very public relationship with her The Voice co-host Blake Shelton. The album addresses new beginnings in disappointingly surface ways. “Send Me A Picture” tries to capture the delicious anticipation of a crush potentially texting a snap, but there’s no heat to the request or the waiting; “Misery” uses the worn-out metaphor that a love is as irresistible as drugs; and “Where Would I Be” has some truly cringe-worthy ideas to compliment and/or seduce a new love, with the line “Fill up my Solo Cup when I’m feeling so lonely” particularly standing out. The one exception is the brutally honest, real-talk ballad “Truth”: Stefani admits she’s grateful for (if a bit scared of) the new relationship, and realizes she’s worth true love, but yet admits she dreads chatter about it being a rebound and doesn’t want to embarrass herself.
This Is What The Truth Feels Like rarely takes musical chances, either, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The album’s light reggae-pop trills, slick keyboard flourishes, and electro production play to Stefani’s vocal and melodic strengths, while the sonic curveballs (the frothy, roller-disco gem “Make Me Like You” and the the bluster-overflowing “Red Flag,” which mixes boastful snaps, string flourishes, and empowered rapping on the) are fun without being kitschy. And although the Fetty Wap “Asking 4 It” guest spot feels totally shoehorned in—perhaps because he added it at the last minute and even Stefani recently admitted, “I have no idea what he’s saying”—her imploring vocal hook, in which she asks a crush if they’re sure about being with her, is one of the album’s stickiest moments. The same holds true on This Is What The Truth Feels Like in general: While the album has its flaws, it is undeniably compelling when its glimmers of vulnerability push to the forefront.