How much you’re able to actually enjoy Gwen Stefani’s first new solo album in 10 years, the thoroughly enjoyable “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” might depend on how much you know — and care — about the No Doubt frontwoman’s personal life, and the drama within it that provided the spark, igniting her creative flame.
If you know nothing — you absolutely needn’t, and might be better off that way — then the 12-track collection could impress with its buoyant grooves, shiny production (with help from folks like the great J.R. Rotem and Greg Kurstin), hummable melodies, and the pure Gwen-ness of its unabashedly lovey dovey lyrics, whimsical flourishes, and romantic effusiveness. The album offers splashes of roller-rink glee, couples-therapy drama, perfumed mash notes, sweetly chaste naughtiness, a little mean girl sniping, and a lot of pop bounce to the ounce, making it the best and most personal of her three solo releases.
Most of the album finds her wrestling with the excitement — fear, lust, and joy — of a new relationship, with the strongest songs, like the sultry “Send Me a Picture” and the ska-flavored “Where Would I Be,” combining her best traits. The balance of the set deals with her complicated emotions — anger, despair, sadness — at the loss of a longtime love. The best tunes in that bin include the percolating but pointed “Red Flags” and the angst pop of “Used to Love You,” where she laments, “I don’t know why I cry, but I think it’s ’cause I remember for the first time since I hated you that I used to love you.”
If you happen to know that a turbulent year for Stefani — including the high-profile and apparently messy demise of her marriage to Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, and then the blossoming of a new relationship with her costar on “The Voice,” Blake Shelton, who himself had weathered a high-profile split from fellow country star Miranda Lambert — provided the inspiration for all of the above, it might color your perception of her giddy new-crush enthusiasm in “Truth” (“they’re all gonna say I’m rebounding, so rebound all over me”) or her observation at the center of “Rare” that “only a stupid girl” would let the “perfect” man go.
Divorcing the music from its maker and inspirations can pose varying degrees of difficulty. But listeners who can imprint themselves on these songs will find much to enjoy in Stefani’s “Truth.”
ESSENTIAL “Used to Love You”Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.