The Basics: We all know and love Gwen Stefani as the Adidas-clad embodiment of postmodern girl power. Whether she's hushing us in No Doubt's "Don't Speak" or lampooning backstage morons in "Hey Baby," she's as cool as it comes. And her last stint at her day job produced the album Rock Steady, which cemented her group's position in the pop pantheon. But now the singer has kicked out on her own. She explains her thinking on Love Angel Music Baby's self-affirming kickoff track, "What You Waiting For?": "You never know, it could be great / Take a chance, 'cause you might grow."
The Catch: Did she really need to make a solo album? With her voice out front again, will this essentially be No Doubt II? Well, first of all, the "S word" '- yep, ska '- is nowhere to be found here. And Gwen has surrounded herself with some hot collaborators, including Eve, OutKast's Andre 3000 and No Doubt pal (slash old squeeze) Tony Kanal. In the hands of this gang, Jamaican-influenced guitars and drums are left behind in favor of glittery, hard-hitting dance tracks that never fail to motivate the booty. Then there's Gwen's image makeover, which leads us to...
Why It's Good: L.A.M.B. ushers Ms. Stefani into glamorous new territory, and it works. In something of a unifying theme, the lyrics weave through the brightly lit world of high fashion; the delightful "Harajuku Girls" depicts a mutual admiration group Gwen has going with four couture-happy Japanese women who just might be named Love, Angel, Music and Baby. And it's no mistake that ritzy designer Vivienne Westwood is called by name in not one song, but two. Buh-bye, sweatsuits.
Given Gwen's high profile, this album aims high on the charts '- and when it comes to being catchy, she's not messing around. Just about every song here has been sharpened into a silver bullet of pop gunpowder that will burrow right into your head and stay there. Take "Hollaback Girl." If not for its liberal use of the other "S word" '- yep, that one '- it might be played at pep rallies for generations to come.
iVillage Mood Meter: You'll want to go dancing in expensive clothes