When pop stars take time out from their day-job pop bands to make a solo record, it usually means one thing: they’re having a mid-career crisis. Fed up of being perceived as shallow, money-generating corporate parasites, they suddenly wake up one morning consumed by an ardent desire to convince the world of their talent, depth and artistic worth by making a ‘confessional’ album of unlistenable, pseudo-soul bollocks.
No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, however, has more class than your average pop star. When she decides to put her multi-platinum band on ice it’s not to cover up her midriff and bash out a few ill-thought-out socio-politico statements on an acoustic guitar, it’s to go even more unabashedly bubblegum. ‘Love Angel Music Baby’ (yes, rubbish, but it’s a tribute to her fashion label LAMB) is her self-confessed “guilty pleasure”. Pulling in the coolest names in the biz (Dr Dre! The Neptunes! Linda Perry! New Order! Andre 3000!) to produce, co-write and guest, she shamelessly plunders her schoolgirl tape collection to create an album which could change the course of music forever – if this was 1983. Here in 2004, it’s still one of the most frivolously brilliant slabs of shiny retro-pop anyone’s had the chuzpah to release all year. And that includes The Killers.
All the best bits of the decade of decadence are here – Salt-N-Pepa’s cartoon rap ( ‘Crash’), Madonna’s breathless purr ( ‘Cool’) and camped-up Prince sexperimentalism ( ‘Bubble Pop Electric’). And almost each and every one (bar the knuckle-bitingly bad Andre 3000 duet ‘Long Way To Go’ – an ill-thought-out socio-politico statement that comes complete with its own scratched-up Martin Luther King voiceover) sounds like a future hit. As it is, the next single is ‘Rich Girl’, a Dre-produced playground chant featuring a tough-girl ragga cameo from Eve.
Like a more clued-in Material Girl, Gwen Stefani has looked to the youngsters and realised that if the Thatcher/Reagan years can work in cool rock clubs (The Bravery, The Departure, The Killers), they can almost certainly work in the charts. It’s this kind of sussed street-pillaging that makes ‘LAMB’ a triumph and Stefani the kind of platinum-plated pop icon she’s always threatened to be.