Gwen Stefani's solo debut 'Love Angel Music Baby' was one of the highlights of 2004, a smart and fun record where the singer fully revealed the class which appeared intermittently during her time with No Doubt.

Here was a collection that bucked the trends that have dragged pop music down in recent years. Every track was strong enough to be a single; it moved between genres successfully and there was an all-star cast that actually made the grade. One listen and you knew Stefani had her work cut out for the follow-up; one listen to 'The Sweet Escape' and you know she hasn't managed it.

That's not to say it doesn't have its moments. The warm title track would hold its own with anything on 'Love Angel Music Baby' and Stefani's collaboration with Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley on the 1980s sounding drama of 'Another Winter' shows that an album of tearjerkers is something she should consider.

That quality doesn't continue throughout and too often this album sounds more stop gap than show stopper. Stefani's forays into the territory Missy Elliottt has made her own on 'Wind It Up' and 'Yummy' come across as hollow here while the likes of '4 in the Morning' and 'Breakin' Up' lack the sparkle that she sprinkled so heavily two years ago.

This is still better than most of the competition, but given what went before it's not a great escape.

Harry Guerin