“Early Winter” is an 1980s-inspired pop rock ballad written by Tim Rice-Oxley (pianist for British band Keane) for Gwen Stefani’s second album The Sweet Escape (2006). The song received positive reviews from music critics, and its opening riffs were used in a Hewlett-Packard commercial featuring Stefani. It was released as the album’s fifth and final single in several European countries.
Stefani called Rice-Oxley the night before she was to work with him in the studio and told him that she wanted a ballad in the vein of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face”, Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song”, and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”. Stefani, pleased with the song, avoided making changes to it after Rice-Oxley played it for her. She later rewrote part of it before recording the song. The song’s lyrics describe lovers approaching the end of a relationship.
“Early Winter” received positive reviews from music critics. Digital Spy praised the song, calling it “…the most affecting moment of Stefani’s solo career to date.” Pitchfork Media stated that the song “…proves that Stefani still has the ability to elevate an otherwise ordinary rock song to another level…” The Guardian referred to it as ‘stylish,’ and The New York Times called it one of the album’s most ‘tuneful’ tracks. PopMatters noted it as a highlight of the album and compared the song’s vulnerability to No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak”. The NME characterized it as “…one of the few potential hits…” from The Sweet Escape. Entertainment Weekly described it as a “majestic power ballad” on which Stefani’s “Orange County-girl voice doesn’t seem genuinely sad.” Slant Magazine compared “Early Winter” to the songs that Stefani wrote with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal for the album. It was also stated that the track sounded “…less forced and much less self-conscious” than other songs. John Murphy of MusicOHM called the song’s lyrics some of the best written by Gwen. He also called the ballad ‘palatable.’
The music video premiered on November 15, 2007 on LAUNCHcast. The video opens with a black-and-white scene of Stefani lying on the floor 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 against the wall and talks to him. The scene then changes to Stefani walking on a street and then walks into the railway station. In the next scene, Stefani is seen singing under falling red-colored feathers in a huge palace-type hall. There are intercuts of Stefani staring at herself in the mirror in unkempt hair and smudged make-up. Stefani is also seen sitting on the floor and singing while crying. Stefani is then seen on the railway station walking besides a moving train. The video ends with Stefani running out of the hall. – adapted from Wikipedia
In the video, Stefani wore a green Dolce & Gabbana gown, as seen on the single cover.
Sophie Muller shot the video in three cities of the European Union, Milan, Italy; Prague, Czech Republic; and Budapest, Hungary, during the European leg of Stefani’s The Sweet Escape Tour. In Milan she shot some parts at a church and a hotel. In Hungary she chose one of the railway stations of Budapest, the Nyugati railway station.
The video premiered on MTV’s Total Request Live on December 18, 2007.
“Early Winter” had its early charting period restricted only to European countries. In Slovakia, it began its run at number ninety-five and then peaked at number six. In the Czech Republic, the song peaked at number nineteen. The song debuted and peaked at number twenty-six on the European Hot 100 Singles. The song entered the Finnish Singles Chart at number fifteen. In Macedonia the song began its chart run at number four and peaked at number three. The song was the album’s least successful single on the Romanian Top 100, peaking at only number forty. The song debuted on the German Singles Chart at number six, the song’s highest debut on a chart.