When Gwen Stefani revealed last September that she was working on a new solo album, her first since 2006’s ‘The Sweet Escape’, pop fans reacted with palpable excitement. No Doubt’s 2012 comeback effort ‘Push And Shove’ had its moments – the Major Lazer-produced title track should have been huge – but ultimately paled in comparison to the singer’s dazzling run of mid-2000s solo hits. The likes of ‘What You Waiting For’, ‘Hollaback Girl’ and ‘Cool’ were among the most memorable pop songs of their era.
But since last September, much of the initial anticipation has fizzled out. Stefani has released a pair of flop singles, the decent electro-pop tune ‘Baby Don’t Lie’ and a disappointing Pharrell collaboration called ‘Spark The Fire’, and contributed a couple of unremarkable tracks to film scores. So it’s a relief to report that her new single ‘Used To Love You’ is a striking return to form. This August, Stefani filed for divorce from her husband of 13 years, Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, and she’s clearly poured the emotional debris from that split into this sad, stark and disarmingly catchy electro-pop ballad. “I don’t know why I cry / But I think it’s cause I remembered for the first time / Since I hated you / That I used to love you,” she sings on the chorus, before delivering the post-chorus in a sort of anguished yelp: “Oh-oh-oh-oh / I used to love you…”
It’s powerful stuff kept raw by some admirably restrained production from Rihanna and Nicki Minaj collaborator J.R. Rotem. Gwen Stefani has been mining relationship drama for lyrical inspiration ever since No Doubt’s 1995 chart-topper ‘Don’t Speak’, which chronicled her break-up from the band’s bassist Tony Kanal. Her ups and downs with Rossdale fuelled affecting solo tracks such as ‘Danger Zone’, ‘Early Winter’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. On ‘Used To Love You’, heartache has brought out the best in her songwriting once again.