|Single by Gwen Stefani|
|from the album The Sweet Escape|
|Released||January 18, 2008|
|Recorded||2006; Home Recordings
|Gwen Stefani singles chronology|
"Early Winter" is a song by American singer and songwriter Gwen Stefani from her second solo studio album, The Sweet Escape (2006). Written by Stefani and English pianist Tim Rice-Oxley, the song was released in Europe as the album's fifth and final single on January 18, 2008 by Interscope Records. Musically, "Early Winter" is a soft rock and synthpop ballad with new wave influences. Critics found it similar to songs by English alternative rock band Keane. The lyrics of the song describe the nearing of the end of a relationship, and were speculated to be references to Stefani's own relationship with husband Gavin Rossdale.
Upon its release, "Early Winter" received generally positive reviews from music critics, many of whom commended Stefani's vocal delivery and the song's emotional appeal. The song charted on only a few record charts, but performed well in Germany and Slovakia, where it peaked at number six on the singles and airplay chart, respectively. An accompanying music video for "Early Winter" was directed by Sophie Muller and was filmed in destinations like Budapest, Milan, and Prague. It contains scenes of Stefani in a palace-like hall in various gowns and at railway stations. "Early Winter" was included in the setlist of The Sweet Escape Tour, and the performances featured a special coda section delivered by American musician and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey.
"Early Winter" was written by Tim Rice-Oxley, pianist of English alternative rock band Keane, and Gwen Stefani for the latter's second solo studio album The Sweet Escape (2006). The production of the song was handled by Nellee Hooper. Before working with Oxley in the studio, Stefani called him to discuss some of her ideas behind a potential song, saying "I wanted a ballad. I wanted to write 'Eyes Without a Face' or 'Killing Me Softly' or 'Time After Time,' and he was like, 'OK, Cyndi Lauper, got it,' like he was taking my order." In the studio, Oxley played "Early Winter" on a piano, and after hearing the song, Stefani approved of it and commented that "It was so beautiful and addictive. I didn't really attack it because it was kind of done, lyrics and everything." After letting the song "sit with her for a bit", she rewrote some of the lyrics.
Stefani was the first artist Oxley wrote a song for outside of Keane, and the singer remarked that "he's like Clark Kent-subtle, but Superman-talented. I'm lucky I was his first, because I'm sure he's going to go write with lots of girls after me." Oxley would later collaborate with artists like Australian singer Kylie Minogue, and in an interview he talked about working with her and Stefani, saying "I've been very lucky to work with people at the top of the industry. Both were very talented and more creative than I think they’re given credit for. They’re both very good writers and singers and they both work so hard, just grafting the whole time. Honing those pop sensibilities through writing with them was good fun".
Composition and release
Stefani's vocals in "Early Winter" are "full of longing, heartache and regret".
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Musically, "Early Winter" is a "sleek, surging" soft rock and synthpop ballad. Similar to Stefani's work with her band No Doubt, it is highly influenced by new wave music. Clark Collis from Entertainment Weekly termed it a "tortured and not un-Keane-like lament". The lyrics of "Early Winter" are based on issues related to the end of a relationship, and Jennifer Vineyard from MTV described them to be "poignant lyrics about a couple recognizing the beginning of the end". In the song, Stefani metaphorically compares the end of her relationship with her partner to falling leaves. It was speculated that the song was a reference to Stefani's own relationship with English musician and husband Gavin Rossdale. "Early Winter" was chosen as the fifth and final single from The Sweet Escape, and was released in Europe as a CD single on January 25, 2008 by Interscope Records. It was made available for digital download on the iTunes Store on January 18.
The song received generally positive reviews from music critics. Andy Battaglia from The A.V. Club praised Stefani's vocal delivery, saying her "nasal voice suits the whiny sentiment of the subject matter" and opining that she "sounds most commanding in songs that flirt with blush-making drippiness". Nick Levine from Digital Spy rated "Early Winter" four out of five stars, and complimented its emotional nature, naming it a "forgotten classic from an eighties movie soundtrack" and deeming it "the most affecting moment of Stefani's solo career to date". John Murphy from MusicOMH called the song "rather nice" and appreciated its lyrical content, although he commented that "it does sound like Stefani covering a Keane song". Alex Miller from NME complimented Oxley's involvement in "Early Winter" and singled it out as "one of the few potential hits" from The Sweet Escape. Mark Pytlik from Pitchfork Media picked "Early Winter" as one of the highlights from the album and favoured Stefani's vocal delivery, noting that the song "proves that Stefani still has the ability to elevate an otherwise ordinary rock song to another level". Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine complimented "Early Winter" for being "less forced and much less self-conscious" in comparison to the rest of the songs on The Sweet Escape, and felt that "it's refreshing to hear Stefani in her more natural habitat".
"Early Winter" had limited chart success, and appeared on only a few charts. It narrowly missed charting inside the top twenty of the Austrian Singles Chart by peaking at number twenty-two, although it stayed on the chart for nineteen weeks. "Early Winter" debuted and peaked at number six on the German Singles Chart, becoming Stefani's second highest-peaking single in the region, alongside "The Sweet Escape" (2006). It spent fourteen weeks on the German chart. The song failed to chart on the Hungarian Singles Chart, but managed to peak at number seventeen on the airplay chart. "Early Winter" entered the Slovak Airplay Chart at number 95 and peaked at number six, and spent a total of thirty-nine weeks on the chart. After debuting at number fifty-two on the Swiss Singles Chart, it ascended to number twelve and spent a total of twenty weeks on the chart.
An accompanying music video for "Early Winter" was directed by Stefani's frequent collaborator Sophie Muller, who had previously directed the music videos of "Cool" and "Wind It Up". Filming of the music video took place at destinations like Budapest, Milan, and Prague, where Stefani had been touring during The Sweet Escape Tour in October 2007. It opens with a black-and-white scene of Stefani lying on the ground in a long white gown. In the next scene, Stefani is shown walking on the street under red street lights and then holds her love interest, played by her tour backup dancer Steelo Vazquez, against the wall and talks to him. The scene then changes to Stefani walking on a street and later walking into the railway station. In the next scene, Stefani is seen singing under falling red-coloured feathers in a huge palace-type hall. Scenes of Stefani staring at herself in the mirror with her hair up and snow falling slowly down, with the lights turning on and off intermittently, are interspersed throughout the video. Stefani is also seen sitting on the ground and singing while crying. She is then shown at a railway station walking besides a moving train. The video ends with Stefani running out of the hall. Tamar Anitai from MTV Buzzworthy praised the video for being "acutely artful, immeasurably stylish" and commented that "Gwen’s managed to raise the bar on her own superlatively supreme style in her new video."
"Early Winter" was included on the setlist of The Sweet Escape's promotional tour of the same name. The performance of the song included a coda section, which was delivered by American musician and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. Joan Anderman from The Boston Globe regarded "Early Winter" as a "winsome anthem" and Dorsey's coda performance "thrilling".
- "Early Winter" (Album Version) – 4:44
- "Early Winter" (Live) – 6:53
Credits adapted from the liner notes of The Sweet Escape.
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