The No Doubt singer's solo output should be the blueprint for any aspiring pop star who doesn't want to sacrifice credibility for the sake of commercial success. Stefani is saleable, yet as cool as it's possible for a California girl who has been "off making babies" (to quote the song Yummy) to be. Several tracks date back to the 2003 sessions that produced her first solo album, LAMB, but generally The Sweet Escape feels minty-fresh.
From the stilted production to the fashion fetish, all the way down to her decision to rap on far too much of the album, all the dance-pop here seems like a pose, creating the impression that she's a glamour girl slumming on a weekend night -- something that her self-proclaimed Michelle Pfieffer in Scarface "coke whore" makeover showcased on the album's cover doesn't do much to dissuade. If the dance production on The Sweet Escape were better, these hipster affectations would be easier to forgive, but they're not: they're canned and bland, which only accentuates Stefani's stiffness. These misfires are so grand they overshadow the many good moments on The Sweet Escape, which are invariably those songs that stay true to her long-standing love of new wave pop (not coincidentally, these include every production from her No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal).