It’s hard to figure out where the Gwen Stefani of makeup commercials and awkward photos with Blake Shelton ends and where Gwen Stefani the musician begins. Are they separate? It’d be prettier to think so. With eight producers listed and a glossy cover photo that denies the existence of imperfections on Stefani’s skin, you already know that on her new album, This Is What the Truth Feels Like, there’s no way in Reseda we’re going to get anything less than what the crack marketing team wants us to have.

With Mattman and Robin (Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson) co-writing (whatever that means these days) a huge chunk of the record alongside Justin Tranter and the monumentally talented Greg Kurstin, there’s zero chance this is going to sound anything less than what you’d expect. This is product, not art. And it’s product that deals with the mother of all art: a breakup. Stefani’s Blood on the Tracks? Not a chance.

Not even the opening track, “Misery,” elicits any real sense of pain. It’s got more hooks than a German slaughterhouse, but does that make it art? The same can be said for “You’re My Favorite” and Stefani’s kinda-sorta-flirtation with her No Doubt past, “Where Would I Be?” On these last two, Kurstin’s pop sensibilities at least shield the songs from becoming 100 percent zombie pop gloss.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good times to be had: “Make Me Like You” could be “Blurred Lines ’16,” making you want to put the metaphorical top down and cruise the metaphorical highway all night long. “Truth,” meanwhile, speaks to the 14-year-old girl in all of us and “Asking 4 It” allows us to get in touch with the romantic suburban gangsta lurking in us all, as does the impotent rage of “Naughty.”

With each of these, and the album as a whole, it occurs to us that perhaps what Cobain wrote is true: it is fun to lose and pretend. Because that’s what Stefani does here: she pretends that these emotions are hers, that the feelings portrayed in the songs belong to someone just like us.

But she’s not like us. She sells us a fantasy of us, the fantasy that there’s triumph to be found at the end of a broken heart, that there’s redemption in having the right things or dancing to the right beats and that music was meant to be listened to on a telephone.

If you can abide all that and buy into the Stefani dream, then more power to you. But it seems like maybe Stefani, who burst onto the scene raging against the kind of vapid that was being thrust upon young women, has bought into the glamor of it all: the expensive data plans and hipster Instagram accounts of life. She is of course free to do with her life what she wants but it seems like maybe it would be a pity if she didn’t pause to acknowledge the woman she once was and the one she had the potential to keep being.
Then again, who are we to tell her what prison to live in?

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