Gwen Stefani — “Cool”

Released: 5.1.05

Peak: #13

Say what you will about Gwen Stefani, but she sure adapted to the pop world of the ’00s with an ease that put Liz and Courtney to shame. Whether you admire that adaptability depends on how comfortable you yourself felt in the pop world of the ’00s. I’d say her versatility is a symptomatic weakness of Stefani’s persona–the girl who hollers woo just a little too forcefully in the club, who nervously makes sure her friends are looking before she makes out with some random boy, whose outfit feels just a little too perfect and arranged.

So, no I’m not a fan, never have been–not when she was peddling pixy-stick ska, not when she was providing blonde highlights to the latest Dre track, not when she stretched an album length-concept out of “marry me Gavin.” And on the promising Love Angel Music Baby, her spirit of musical adventure was hamstrung by her precious phrasing, her needless lingering over syllables, and a pout that remained as audible a distraction as Billy Idol’s sneer. I always wanted to find “Hollaback Girl” annoying in a fun way, but I’ve never warmed to “We Will Rock You” myself, and Stefani’s omnipresence made 2005 feel like living downstairs from a sports arena.

Stefani’s previous brushes with adult contemporary (“Don’t Speak”) were so disastrous that I never expected her to sound as adult or contemporary as she did on “Cool.” It’s a song about how friendship can outlast love, how time passes and grown-ups act like grown-ups, and that purposely stiff beat, with the guitar clicking along in lockstep, is ideally suited to such square sentiments. Maybe no singer less shallow than Stefani could have related a basic human feeling, could have made me believe that she’d felt clichés like “time always kills the pain” come true in her own life. She couldn’t have done it without help from Dallas Austin, sure, but say what you will–Gwen sure adapted to the pop world of the ’00s with an ease that put Liz and Courtney to shame.

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  • Chris Molanphy  On September 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Not calling you out, truly, but did you mean to use the same line in your intro and conclusion? (It’s a good line, I don’t blame you. And if it was a mistake, I do shit like that all the time, so no shame.)

  • usefulnoise  On September 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Yeah, meant to do that. I think in my original draft it made more sense!

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