The last time someone tried to write lyrics for Gwen Stefani, she fled from the studio, crying. But when the same thing happened with a new collaborator during sessions for her new LP, The Sweet Escape, she didn't freak out. She didn't run away. This time she smiled, because she got exactly what she wanted.
The night before Stefani went in the studio with Keane keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, she called him to go over a few ideas. "I wanted a ballad. I wanted to write 'Eyes Without a Face' or 'Killing Me Softly' or 'Time After Time,' and he was like, 'OK, Cyndi Lauper, got it,' like he was taking my order," she said. The next day, he played her "Early Winter" on the piano, "and it was the song. It was so beautiful and addictive," she said. "I didn't really attack it because it was kind of done, lyrics and everything."
Stefani let the song sit with her for a bit, then went back in, rewrote some of it and then recorded it. "It's just like one of the most beautiful songs ever. I love it," she said of the track, which is bound to cause speculation about the state of the Gwen-Gavin union, with its poignant lyrics about a couple recognizing the beginning of the end. Just how close it is to home we may never know, because the singer is (perhaps wisely) giving all the credit to her collaborator: "He had never written outside of Keane before, but he's like Clark Kent-subtle, but Superman-talented. I'm lucky I was his first, because I'm sure he's going to go write with lots of girls after me."
And further proof that Stefani is finally letting go of her compulsion to write every last lyric on her solo albums, she's capping The Sweet Escape with the Linda Perry-penned "Wonderful Life," the track that nearly gave the singer a breakdown during her Love, Angel, Music, Baby sessions (see "Gwen Stefani: Scared Solo").
Ditched because she wanted L.A.M.B. to be more uplifting and fun, "not so deep," Stefani felt it was a tragedy that the song had been sitting on her computer all this time. "Poor little song," she said. "I had to pick between that and 'Bubble Pop Electric' for the last record, and I was sitting in the kitchen with my manager like, 'Which one?' Which one?' I ended up saving 'Wonderful Life,' and that's probably the reason why I did this whole record."
But none of The Sweet Escape would have broken free from Stefani's computer had she not had so many leftovers from her L.A.M.B. sessions — even before she started, she was halfway done (see "Gwen Stefani's New LP, The Sweet Escape, Set For December"). Still, she wanted to update the tracks she'd worked on before, and that meant more studio time. Her mixed feelings about recording again are all over the new tracks, just as her hesitation to go solo in the first place was all over Love, Angel, Music, Baby. On "Orange County Girl," she sings, "Don't know what I'm doing back in the studio ... If you gimme a clap, I'm gonna give an encore." And then, on "Yummy," she raps, "Encore/ Sophmore/ Only one solo, I swore."
Though the standout tracks "Early Winter" and "Wonderful Life" are rock/pop ballads, The Sweet Escape wanders all over the musical map, and that's intentional: How could it truly be an escape otherwise? Hip-hop fans will likely gravitate towards the "disco Tetris" beat Pharrell gives her for "Yummy," or the Swizz Beatz drum line on "Now That You Got It," but No Doubt purists will be happy that Tony Kanal is getting his Prince on for "Fluorescent," and perhaps surprised that Akon came up with a playful melody for the title track.
"That was a totally unexpected track that I would never imagine I would have on this record," Stefani said. "People kept saying you have to work with this guy Akon, and I didn't know who he was. I was in my pregnancy bubble, and you don't really know what's going on in the outside world. I think I even canceled a session with him. The head of my label called me and he was like, 'You can cancel everything else in your life, but don't cancel this session.' I thought I was going in for this generic hip-hop, but it was really fresh and fun."
Besides impacting the pace of her recording schedule, the presence of Gwen's baby, Kingston, is palpable on The Sweet Escape — and not just because he can be heard crying on "Yummy." The circus of "Don't Get It Twisted" is about realizing she's pregnant in the first place — a sort of corollary to No Doubt's "Simple Kind of Life," in which she wished for a birth-control mistake. "My head is a block/ Collecting all the symptoms, about to call the doc. ... Tick tock, I guess I'm late again/ You know it's going to come at any point." Later, on "Yummy," she boasts, "I've been up making babies like a chef making donuts and pastries."
"I want him to grow up and know how important he is," Stefani said. "He is the most delicious thing. He's growing up so quickly. Everyone warned me it goes so fast, and I don't want to miss any of that. I didn't have the luxury I did before of going into the studio at any hour. So making the album this time, it was really condensed and focused. He's been in every studio, on the jet, on the helicopter, everywhere. He's such a chill guy and he likes to hang out. He's very easy."
Kingston is also coming along on Gwen's tour, the North American leg of which kicks off in April with tickets on sale in February. Tour dates for Central America, South America, Australia, Asia, and Europe have not yet been announced.
Gwen Stefani tour dates, according to her Web site:
» April 21 - Phoenix, AZ @ Cricket Pavilion
» April 22 - Chula Vista, CA @ Coors Amphitheatre
» April 24 - Fresno, CA @ Save Mart Center
» April 25 - Bakersfield, CA @ Rabobank Arena
» April 28 - Las Vegas, NV @ MGM Grand Garden Arena
» April 30 - West Valley City, UT @ "E" Center
» May 2 - Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center
» May 3 - Albuquerque, NM @ Journal Pavilion
» May 5 - Dallas, TX @ Smirnoff Music Centre
» May 6 - Woodlands, TX @ Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
» May 8 - Tampa, FL @ Ford Amphitheatre
» May 9 - West Palm Beach, FL @ Sound Advice Amphitheatre
» May 11 - Atlanta, GA @ HiFi Buys Amphitheatre
» May 12 - Charlotte, NC @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
» May 14 - Raleigh, NC @ Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek
» May 15 - Virginia Beach, VA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
» May 17 - Washington DC @ Nissan Pavilion
» May 18 - Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center
» May 20 - Wantagh, NY @ Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre
» May 21 - Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
» May 23 - Boston, MA @ Tweeter Center
» May 24 - Philadelphia, PA @ Tweeter Center at the Waterfront
» May 26 - Atlantic City, NJ @ Borgata Hotel and Casino
» May 27 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Post-Gazette Pavilion at Star Lake
» May 29 - Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
» May 30 - Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
» June 1 - Detroit, MI @ Palace of Auburn Hills
» June 2 - Noblesville, IN @ Verizon Wireless Music Center
» June 4 - Omaha, NE @ Qwest Center Omaha
» June 5 - St. Paul, MN @ Xcel Energy Center
» June 7 - Milwaukee, WI @ Bradley Center
» June 8 - Tinley Park, IL @ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
» June 10 - Winnipeg, MB @ MTS Centre
» June 12 - Edmonton, AB @ Rexall Place
» June 13 - Calgary, AB @ Pengrowth Saddledome
» June 15 - Vancouver, BC @ General Motors Place
» June 16 - Auburn, WA @ White River Amphitheatre
» June 18 - Marysville, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheatre
» June 19 - Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre
» June 22 - Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre