After an 11-year hiatus, No Doubt is finally back with its long-awaited sixth album. During their time off, the band members dabbled in side projects and collaborations, and lead singer Gwen Stefani notably released successful solo dance-pop albums.
After lots of talk about a new (and long-overdue) album, the band has finally released Push and Shove, which is firmly in the running for the most dissatisfying album of the year.
Originally formed in 1986, No Doubt garnered attention for its unique and seamless blend of ska, punk and pop sounds. Though its eponymous first album dropped in 1992, the band didn’t gain fame until 1995’s Tragic Kingdom. Stefani’s pitch-perfect vocals and the band’s tight production complemented the genre-jumping music, and the album has remained No Doubt’s most successful, reaching Diamond certification in the United States alone.
The more mature Return Of Saturn followed in Tragic Kingdom’s gargantuan footsteps and the band’s success reached a new, more mainstream audience with 2001’s Rock Steady.
The difference between No Doubt and Rock Steady is vast — the 1992 No Doubt employs a quirky, original sound, while the 2001 No Doubt has more of a conventional pop sound. Though the band’s slow descent into the realm of Top 40 became more evident with each album, Push and Shove somehow still comes as a surprising disappointment.
Maybe it’s because the expectations were too high or because No Doubt has simply grown out of their ska-punk roots — whatever the case might be, the quartet’s new album sounds like a completely different band than the one that started out in the late ’80s, and not in a good way. Other than “Settle Down,” “Sparkle,” and the questionable title track, the ska vibe that used to define the band is completely discarded for an extremely dancey and superficial sound.
“Settle Down” might be a little too produced for die-hard No Doubt fans, but the opener is solid enough and representative of the band’s claim to fame.
What follows, however, is virtually an entire album of forgettable tracks. An overly produced club/dance sound overpowers most of Push and Shove, as with “Easy” and “Dreaming the Same Dream,” which take the listener back to the bad part of the 1980s.
The band reaches a somewhat happy balance between its roots and its new direction with “Gravity.” Though the song is super poppy, it doesn’t make you long for 1998, back when No Doubt still made great music. In regard to this album, that’s a compliment.
It’s not just the music that’s jaw-droppingly out of character for the band — it’s the lyrical frivolity. Gone is the social commentary of “Trapped In A Box,” the clever relationship woes of “Excuse Me Mr.” and “Hey You,” the witty charm of “Bathwater” and “New.” What we have now are gems like, “This is my diversion / Go ahead and stare / I’m a ragamuffin” (from “Looking Hot”).
Or how about the painfully puerile, “A cat up in a tree / Want you to get me down but I’m scared of what I’ll see / I need a private eye / To see through your disguise” (from “Undercover”)?
If you’re looking for something more profound, there’s always “Undone,” which starts with the painfully trite, “I’m broke / Let me show you where it hurts.” Stefani’s proven she can be better than this.
On a purely lyrical level, it’s hard not to wonder: How did the unique and talented singer from the original No Doubt go from the snarling, sarcastic “Just A Girl” to crooning “I’m a hustler, baby” with a straight face?
Another disappointment of the album, for that matter, are the vocals. Stefani ditched the heavy vibrato that made her inimitable and famous around the time of Rock Steady, and her once-signature voice has now evolved into whiny territory.
The fact of the matter is that No Doubt will most likely hit a new audience, which seems to be the goal. Many songs on the album sound like David Guetta B-sides; and though some might take that as a compliment, among the old-school No Doubt fan base, that’s anything but. The last bits of the band’s edge that remained on Rock Steady are all but gone now.
If Push and Shove was one of Stefani’s solo projects, the album would be mediocre, at best. But under the No Doubt banner, the album is a monumental disappointment.
It’s understandable that a group would want to evolve, but the best kind of evolution is one that doesn’t leave old fans behind. New fans will most definitely be made with this record, but for die-hard No Doubt fans, Push and Shove will stand as a meaningless statement from a once-meaningful band.