Jamie Nelson
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March 16, 2016 at 01:31 PM EDT
We gave it an A-

“Truth” is the operative word on This Is What the Truth Feels Like, an album so directly torn from Stefani’s recent, much-documented romantic upheavals that it could be called The Ballad of Blake and Gavin. She’s always been an especially guileless kind of pop star, one whose best songs are also her most personal: 1995’s epic melodrama of intra-band tension “Don’t Speak”; 2001’s tender, vulnerable “Underneath It All”—and more recently Truth’s lead single, the actually-ripped-from-the-headlines “Used to Love You.” Part torch song and part kiss-off, it’s strung with the sort of small, telling details (“Suitcase, Band-Aids/Pulling back out the driveway/You go, I’ll stay”) that help ground the record when it wanders into more generic dear-diary reflections on love lost and found.

Some tracks, like the sunny, reggae-boosted “Where Would I Be” and roller-­disco bounce “Make Me Like You,” are so mindlessly fun they could have their lyric sheets fully told in emojis. (Cat With Heart Eyes! Handclap! Eggplant!) On the sly “Naughty” and bass-rattling “Red Flag,” though, Stefani drills down, serving up glossy hooks with a side of verbal nunchucks. There are come-ons disguised as cautions (see the Fetty Wap-assisted ­stomper “Asking 4 It”) and sweetly smitten confessionals (“Rare,” “Misery”), too. At 46, the mother of three can sometimes sound like the world’s most glamorous high school sophomore, passing mash notes after study hall. But she wears her girlishness on her own terms, and here it feels truer—and sounds stronger—­than it has in years.

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