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Review:Ms.Stefani Is (Finally) Back in Our Good Music Graces with ‘This Is What the Truth Feels Like’

Long before she took over a judges chair on The Voice and became Blake Shelton’s headline snatching main squeeze, there’s really no need to argue that Ms. Gwen Stefani owned the mainstream music world. First in the mid ’90s with her merry No Doubt band mates (how many times have you butchered “Don’t Speak” at karaoke nights?), then eventually going on to slay a solo music career with two successful albums–2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and 2006’s The Sweet Escape.

But after the final thumps of her so-so sophomore set faded away, Stefani strayed away from the music spotlight to spend time focusing on her family (she’s a working and recently divorced Mom of three) and fashion empire, While she did link up with her No Doubt besties again in 2012 for their sixth studio album, Push & Shove, the record was more or less (okay, less) a “buzzworthy” album rather than playing a part in helping put her back on the mainstream music map where she rightfully deserves to be. And now it seems as with her hot-to-headphones new set, This is What the Truth Feels Like, she’s finally going to have the chance to reclaim her music throne once again. 

After a scrapped album with two failed single attempts in late 2014– “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire”–Stefani has (finally) come back with a shot to own it all again with her revamped and ravishing third solo studio set, which was certainly worth the long wait. A fun, fiery romp, Gavin Rossdale’s ex boo thang strikes back with a swinging record that’s not just loaded with radio ready grooves and slick productions, but a new-found confidence that feels honest, light, more relaxed and certainly miles away from anything she “teased” us with almost two years ago now. 

Kicking things off is the No Doubt singed opener, “Misery,” and while it deals with brutally honest lyrics (as most of the lyrics on the album do, but that’s actually what makes this record worth your headphones time)about that new love angst, the whirling number plays out as a breezy ride that sets up the cheeky, yet serious tone for the entire set. We can’t escape the fact that “Truth” is the operative word on Ms. Gwen’s sassy new collection, and that’s exactly what we get from an album that is derived directly from her recent, much-documented romantic upheavals, including her much, much publicized spilt from Gavin Rossdale. 

Those that have followed the diva early own know that she’s always had a keen sense in being a guileless kind of pop star, one whose best tracks are also her most personal: “Don’t Speak” certainly proves that theory, as does 2001’s tender, vulnerable “Underneath It All”—and more recently Truth’s heart wrenching lead single, “Used to Love You.” Part burn and part fuck off, it’s musically laced with small, yet harrowing details (“Suitcase, Band-Aids/Pulling back out the driveway/You go, I’ll stay”) that help ground the record when it wanders into more generic dear-diary reflections on love lost and found. Case in point, the vast difference in tone of perky Truth second single, “Let Me Like You.” 

However, we can’t forget that this is also the diva who crushed the charts with the bubble gum cracking sass of “Hollaback Girl” over a decade ago, and a select number of tracks, like the reggae tinged “Where Would I Be” and even the roller-­disco ready bounce of “Make Me Like You,” are so mindlessly fun that they easily take us back to the Harajuku Girls days. (sigh) Even on grittier Gwen grooves like the rattling “Naughty” and the trunk ready flair of  “Asking 4 It” (complete with a guest spit from Fetty Wap) and “Red Flag,” the songstress still manages to serve up glossy hooks with a side of verbal nunchucks. Hey, that’s her shit, right? And this album proves that it still most certainly is. 

But what makes this album really pop is that a majority of the cuts were produced by the Swedish duo Mattman & Robin as well as Greg Kurstin, who’ve recently helmed hits for Selena Gomez (“Me and the Rhythm”) and Taylor Swift. The producers easily slide their savvy production swagger underneath Gwen’s polished vocals, which have never sounded more sexy, more cool and most of all–more relaxed, which is evidently true in slinky standout “Send Me a Picture.” A deep ditty in which the diva’s wondering what her lover is doing (Mr. Shelton, we presume?) while they’re apart. “Are you looking online? / Are you looking at me?” she sings over a scandalous synth drop, and what a relevantly seasoned question that is.

Now that Ms. Stefani’s well received new set is finally upon us, the real question arises–is it solid enough to put her back on top of the mainstream music world? Because let’s face it, at 46 years old, she is right in that dreaded “middle-aged diva” territory,  and we all know that the struggle can get real pretty quick for those who’ve crossed the over forty border. Case in point, the upcoming E! docuseries, Mariah’s World. Enough said. 

However, those now grown up kids who’ve gotten down with Gwen since those beloved No Doubt and “Hollaback” days, give this album a chance. Besides the fact that it’s actually quite good, it’s also a strong, solid reminder that Gwen Stefani is much more than a judge on The Voice and a recurring tabloid fixture–she’s a true music icon, and This is What The Truth Feels Like credibly proves that theory and then some.

“I am broken / I am insecure, complicated,” Gwen sings on tender album closer, “Rare,” but her voice isn’t sounding a note of caution as it’s vivaciously filled with a newfound sense full of pride, which is all we ever wanted from her in the first place. 

 

 

 

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Track-by-Track Truth/New Music Friday Grooves

As much fun as it is picking apart new records on a weekly basis (check out reviews of the latest sets from The Knocks, LION BABE and Mýa… yes, that Mýa), it’s more fun to dissect the tracks that become the foundations for those anticipated sets. This week, there was a whole buffet of new grooves released with one purpose in mind–to take over our #NewMusicFriday worlds. 

So, are the latest tracks from Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, Zayn (sigh) and Bag Raiders all headphones worthy for your weekend? Find out below and then dive right into Philly’s Mixtape‘s March playlist, which is locked and loaded for your #TGIF pleasure. 

Zayn/”Like I Would” Out of the trio of tunes Zayn has put forth off of his eagerly anticipated solo debut, Mind of Mine, this fun banger is by the very best one. Take a listen below and hear why March 25th can’t get here fast enough. 

Ariana Grande/”Dangerous Woman” It seems as if the next music era of Ariana Grande is (finally) upon us, and its shaping up to be….something. Besides the cover of the album’s title track being blessed with that cover, this time the young diva is serving us with a mid tempo jam, much different from her more peppier grooves like “Problem,” “Break Free” and even, “Focus.” It will be oh, so interesting to see if radio truly picks up on it like it does with any other one of her chart bulldozing singles, but either way, you can bet that Ari’s new set and single will get a nice push when the she plays host and musical guest on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live…and we’ll certainly be watching. 

Gwen Stefani/”Misery” The hype train for Gwen’s much anticipated third solo set, This Is What the Truth Feels Like is in full steam, and it looks like the heat will keep rising when it comes to her latest hot-to-headphones romp. In the music spirit of her current hit single, “Make Me Like You,” “Misery” is another cheeky tune complete with Ms. Gwen’s perky vocal wails, swinging backbeat with just a touch of No Doubt flair. Just listen. 

Seeb/Neev/”Breathe” Bliss. 

Tinie Tempah/Zara Larsson/”Girls Like” The first official jam of the warm weathered season has arrived. Enough said. 

Beyonce/”Formation”/Barry Harris Remix The best remix of Bey’s smash hit that you will ever get down to on the floor. Headphones down. 

Mike Posner/”I Took a Pill in Ibiza”/Seeb Rewerk Have you heard this year’s “Leon On” yet?

Autograf/”Heartbeat” Pure delicious deep house heaven. 

Joywave/”Life in a Bubble” With the windows down…just cruisin’….

Bag Raiders/”Friend Inside” With seasonal temps in full swing now, there’s no better time to get lost in everything that dazzling Australian electronic duo Bag Raiders have to offer. 

For much more track-by-track weekend truth, point those headphones towards Philly Mixtape‘s fully locked and loaded March Weekend Mixtape…right now. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Track-by-Track Truth/Mýa/’Smoove Jones’

All music truth be told, I’ve always a soft music spot for R&B songstress,Mýa .Mostly because out of all her “Lady Marmalade” co-divas–Xtina, Missy, P!nk and even Lil’ Kim-Mýa is the only one whose struggle has been a little real to stay relevant in the music game. Anyone remember her tribute to Janet’s “Pleasure Principle” on MTV’s Icon from 2001? Exactly.

But that’s not to say that the former Rugrats diva hasn’t been doing her thing–Mya’s actually released a handful of records over the years, which have all been surprisingly quite good–especially 2011’s K.I.S.S., which became a major hit in Japan thanks to the roller skate ready single, “Beautiful Life.” (Those who’ve been following Mýa’s career know exactly how much fun the track is). 

Now, the “Ghetto Superstar” chanteuse has returned and is serving up her eighth studio album, Smoove Jones, a sultry, seductive collection of bedroom ready grooves that are full of life and mixed with those breathy vocals that only she knows how to serve up like no other. Now, is this the album that will return the singer to her “Case of the Ex” glory days? Most likely not. But is it a solid set that you should absolutely spin and make it all about Ms. Mýa once again? Absolutely.

Even better is the fact that the singer released the set on her own Planet 9 record label and had her own hand in every song on the set with just a tiny handful of producers on each track, the latter of which is something quite unheard of when it comes to making most records these days. 

It’s all broken down here and so much more in the track-by-track truth of Mya’s latest studio set, Smoove Jones. So, let loose and take a listen below. You just might enjoy it. 

“Smoove Jones Radio” (Intro) 

“Welcome To My World”  The title pretty much sums this bass drenched number all up. 

“Hold On” Let the baby makin’ games begin. 

“Elevator” The smoovest haters anthem that you’ll hear all year. Keep on elevation.’ 

“Phya” Is that a little throwback to the singer’s ’03 hit, ‘It’s All About Me” that we hear in the intro? It most certainly is. You’ll never spell “fire” the same way ever again. 

“Spoil Me” Trunk ready. 

“Team You” Not as fiery as the album’s preceding tracks, but still just as feisty. 

“Coolin” There’s that coo-ing falsetto in full action that only Mýa knows how to deliver. 

“One Man Woman” (Old School Joint)” It’s like it’s 1998 all over again. Sigh…

“Circle Of Life” Light disco delight equals strobe-lit bliss. 

“Smoove Jones Afta Glow Radio Show” Groove on, Ms.Mýa Until next time.