Gwen Stefani, Bonnie Raitt
Gwen Stefani, This Is What the Truth Feels Like
Poor Gwen Stefani, all heartbroken on “Used to Love You,” the launch single from her long-delayed album that set the stage for what seemed like a return to the rawness of her No Doubt days. Uncertainty and sadness and the rebuilding of her self-confidence—in just four minutes, the not-a-Hollaback-girl’s face scaled the full scope of emojis. In fact, the single and its understated video said more than the album that would follow a few months later. No, This Is What the Truth Feels Like isn’t the breakup confessional it wants you to think it is, and its truth-telling is only pop-star real, guised by indistinguishable trend chasers. With so few inspired offerings in its factory of store-bought Top 40 beats (among them, yes, a Gwen rap), what’s good? Gwen and her moxie are on the mend thanks to Blake Shelton, her current beau, so there’s that. She sings about it on the enjoyable “Make Me Like You,” gushing like a little girl smacked by love’s newness over a dizzying disco skate sound. In places, her feelings are raw and real. This is true of “Used to Love You,” which channels vulnerability and anger-turned-defiance into a seam-busting chorus that turns a literal twinkle into a typhoon of woeful dramatics. Greg Kurstin produces the folk-pop stargazer “Rare,” which refreshingly flavors the album’s predictable fare with some much-needed acoustic-guitar-assisted rawness before it reaches a dreamy Kylie-esque chorus wherein Gwen confesses she’s “broken and insecure” and feels “worthless.” It’s the same kind of messy authenticity you wish was mirrored in more of this music. Grade: C
Bonnie Raitt, Dig in Deep
Imagine if Bonnie Raitt sang Donald Trump’s tweets. The point is, Bonnie Raitt can make the ugliest things beautiful. And for the last four decades, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s soulful rasp has done just that, turning sadness into catharsis, all the while demonstrating such impressive and seemingly effortless guitar skills she could nail performances in her sleep. And because, yes, good things happen in this world too, she has a new album out. Cue the heartbreak, right? On “The Ones We Couldn’t Be,” a ballad you listen to with the lights out, Raitt’s voice is Namaste for the soul, working over the delicate keys slowly, soothingly, resting in just the right places, aching with just the right amount of ache. It’s a perfect ballad, but of course it is: Raitt knows her way around a tearjerker just as we know deep breaths and thinking happy thoughts won’t block the pain of a Bonnie ballad (you’re still recovering from Raitt’s 1991 Grammy winner “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and you know it). “I Knew” is good because it sounds like it should have already been included on a Best Of; the song is right within Raitt’s bluesy ’90s-era wheelhouse, and that chorus and its key change—during which she pleads “I would’ve run, but I couldn’t run; I would’ve flown, but I couldn’t fly”—is golden. All of Dig in Deep, though, calls for repeated plays, unraveling its lyrical truths layer by layer and doing the blues as only Bonnie Raitt can. Grade: B+
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate.