Release Date: Sep 25, 2012
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Grunge, Ska-Punk, Third Wave Ska Revival
No Doubt aren't just 11 years older than they were when they released their last LP. They're determined to be wiser. Push and Shove leans toward synthpop-flavored ballads with grown-up themes: relationship struggles, the rewards of long-term romance. The songs are catchy, but Gwen Stefani doesn't have the voice, or the gravitas, for grandiose tunes.
Underneath it all, underneath all the glamour and stardom, No Doubt remain a group of SoCal kids enraptured by the ska revival and new wave. That's their common language, so when they reunited for 2012's Push and Shove, their first album in over ten years, they returned to this shared bond, using it as a back-to-roots template for an album that deftly weaves in contemporary sounds without ever pandering. Part of this dexterity is due to No Doubt expanding their love of ska outward toward reggae and dancehall, underlining their affection with bouncing elastic rhythms and a heavy dose of patois -- nowhere more so than on the Major Lazer-assisted single "Push and Shove" -- a self-conscious move toward musical maturity that does indeed pay off as it plays like an affirmation of roots.
The guys and gal of No Doubt have never been bashful about their arduous songwriting process. Both their 1995 breakthrough, Tragic Kingdom, and its follow-up, Return of Saturn, infamously took years to complete. Perhaps tellingly, the band’s best album, 2001’s Rock Steady, was written and recorded in just a few short months. But while Push and Shove, their first album in 11 years and only their fifth in two decades, didn’t come to fruition quite as effortlessly as its predecessor, sonically it plays like a logical continuation, reprising that album’s dancehall and dub styles and largely eschewing the ska sound that made No Doubt famous in the first place.
It’s been over a decade since we last heard from the glitzy pop fiends in No Doubt—and a lot’s changed in the interim: The music industry has tanked, and the kind of buzzy electro-tinged pop the band perfected on 2001’s stellar Rock Steady is now a predictable Top 40 standard. So it comes as no shock that No Doubt swings for the fences on their sixth album, Push and Shove, exploding through synthy arena-pop ballads, synthier arena-pop ballads and amplified forays into dance-hall reggae. No time for subtlety—another sing-along chorus is always just around the corner.
No Doubt's 11-year hiatus, partly caused by Gwen Stefani's solo-career diversion, has been little noted, but their return is cause for a small celebration. Still the same foursome, still linked by a love of ska, which they still dispense with the same Cali-pop patina, No Doubt are perhaps the only white fortysomethings who could pull off an electro-reggae number that challenges the listener to "go ahead and stare at my ragamuffin". They've engaged only sparingly with current trends: a dubstep breakdown is subtly woven into the Diplo-produced, dancehallish title track, and Looking Hot is a catchy club tune influenced by Stefani's solo albums.
Eleven years, some solo albums and a couple of babies since No Doubt's last record, Gwen Stefani has finally delivered on her promise to return to her former stomping grounds. No Doubt have always been musical chameleons, blending ska, reggae and 80s dance-pop into their signature sound, but thankfully they've resisted the urge to go the Korn route and fully embrace EDM. Though it tries on a variety of popular styles - New Order synth-rock, acoustic ballads, anthemic arena rock - Push And Shove is unabashedly pop, and bows to the band's most obvious weapon: Stefani.
Push and Shove often sounds like it’s on power-pop autopilot. “Gravity”, “Heaven”, and “Sparkle” are decent, but get stuck in the clouds. Island jingles and Eastern accents blithely hint at nuance without much payoff. But there is plenty to enjoy as you push and shove right to end of the album, where the first (and best) three songs appear again in remixed form.
No Doubt’s songs make me think of rich white girls shopping. Latter day songs such as “Hey Baby” and “Hella Good” seemed to be on constant rotation at the upscale King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania. No Doubt’s new album, Push and Shove—their first in 11 years—has the added offense of bearing the reminder of Gwen Stefani’s solo career, a hugely successful move which made any further No Doubt releases seem unnecessary, unless the goal was to reconstitute ska into an even more morbid form than on previous outings.
Review Summary: Hella badIt’s never a good sign when halfway through the first song somebody remarks “Is this STILL the same song?” It’s unfortunate, but this is what No Doubt have driven people to. Stefani, sounding like a drugged-up hybrid of Neneh Cherry and the woman who sang on that awful “Coco Jambo” song, is dead set on marring every song with her overbearing vocals and worryingly generic lyrics. Already a disciple of Madonna, Stefani appears determined to follow HRH Madge’s career path to the bitter end; awful late-period releases with about as much soul as a Scientology convention.
Consider: The 11 years it’s taken for No Doubt to put out a new album is longer than it took the Southern California group to release everything in its catalog up to and including 2001’s “Rock Steady” in the first place. It had an entire career — from indie identity-honing to massive mainstream success to lackluster follow-up to triumphant comeback — in less time than “Push and Shove” gestated, so it’s probably little surprise that the album finds No Doubt forgetting how to be a band. It’s not a matter of everybody fighting for their own ideas at the group’s expense; just the opposite, in fact, as it sounds like every last detail was worked out through numbing compromise.