Noteworthy new music: Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani – The Sweet Escape (Interscope): Three tracks into "The Sweet Escape," and Gwen Stefani has already admitted that she's back in the studio mostly because "there's nothing better than a great big huge hit." A flimsy premise for an album, maybe, but honest enough – "Escape" is sleek, shiny, and tightly produced. In other words, Stefani has finally come to terms with the death of her rough rocker persona; on this record, her reinvention as pop goddess is complete. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The title track is a beguiling banger, and "Don't Get It Twisted" is a sinuous, edgy electro anthem. There are some missteps – "Yummy" is jittery, pointless pastiche – but Stefani isn't running a marathon. She only needs a couple hits, and "Escape" is a sprint straight for the charts. Grade: B

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