If you'd have asked us a year ago what we thought of Gwen Stefani, we'd have been brimming with praise. This was a girl power stunner with a stirling back-catalogue of No Doubt songs, and a cracker of a debut solo album. 'Love Angel Music Baby' quite simply ruled: from the electro-pop of 'What You Waitin For', to the hyperactive 'Bubble Pop Electric', and the instant hip-hop classic 'Hollaback Girl', this 'shit was bananas'.
But now, we come to the ever difficult second album. And boy, what a second album this is. 'Rich Girl', borrowing heavily from 'Fiddler on a Roof', was always our least favourite track on LAMB, so to launch the album with 'Wind It Up' which borrows heavily from The Sound of Music's 'Lonely Goatherd' complete with yodelling? Well, that's just pushing things.
Keane's very own Tim Rice-Oxley has taken a break from being the year's most unlikely druggie here to work on 'Early Winter'. Ambling along with rousing piano like any other Keane track, it's obviously a competent piece but the concept of a Keane writing, Nellee Hooper producing and Gwen singing team sends our head spinning.
As far away from Keane as you can get - if it's experimental Gwen that tickles your fancy, The Neptunes produced 'Yummy' is certainly waving the biggest flag here. Almost the lead single until Gwen decided it missed a certain something, it's minimal "disco tetris" bleeps complete with Pharrell rap and an almost crunky undulating bassline make it instantly memorable. Unfortunately it seems that against popular belief, not everything Mr Williams touches turns to gold. The dreary 'Orange County Girl' send us reaching for the skip button as a whiny Gwen sings "I'm just an Orange County girl, living in an extraordinary world." Give us 'Jenny from The Block' anyday.
Closing ballad 'Wonderful Life' retreads sweet Gwen, throws up a cute 80s vibe and nails it. Written by Linda Perry, and with guitars by Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, this really highlights the non-crazy Gwen we've been missing and just leaves us crying out for a return to the No Doubt days. But with the blessed Harujuki girls on her arm for the last two years - when she rejoins her old band in 2007 for a long awaited album, will anyone be taking her seriously?