It’s been 11 years, but you can’t tell from looking at the band. No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani appears to have not aged 11 days in that span; and, after giving birth to two children, she is still able to pull off the midriff tank top like it is 1996. To add, always-colorful drummer Adrian Young shows there is no shame in rocking a mohawk into your forties. All the band member are actually parents now, but none appear to have forgotten how to pick back up their once, sole full-time job of being a rock star.
Yes, it’s been 11 years since No Doubt last released an album, but the band hasn’t been completely out of the spotlight during that time. Their fifth album, Rock Steady, was highly successful, generated four singles that propelled the band into touring through 2004. From there Stefani launched her successful solo career while her bandmates tinkered with recording and touring with other artists. The band reunited in 2009 to embark on a massive summer tour, with promises of returning to the studio thereafter. Now in 2012, No Doubt returns with their long-awaited sixth album, Push and Shove, and it continues to celebrate the nonconforming musical evolvement that has always made No Doubt’s sound unique.
No Doubt initially began as a ska band in the late 80s. However, since then they have incorporated everything from synth pop, to alternative rock, to new wave, back to reggae fusion. Push and Shove is no different, including a gamut of the past musical explorations, which collectively have become No Doubt’s “sound.” And as they add more musical angles, they never really seem to fully ditch any of the past ones. For instance, Push and Shove‘s “Looking Hot” flashes back to the early days with a wonderful, heavily ska-influenced bridge. It’s actually one of my favorite moments on the album. The track starts off pretty ordinary and somewhat reminiscent of Stefani’s lead solo single “What You Waiting For?” However, it breakdowns midway through, longtime No Doubt trumpeter Stephen Bradley sounds off, and Stefani carries the lyrics over with a melodic ska tone. It’s a nice ode back to the Tragic Kingdom and prior era, and it really turns the track into something special.
I really can’t go much further into the review without mentioning title track “Push and Shove.” I remember hearing lead single “Settle Down” a few months back, and thinking, it’s not bad, we’ll see what happens with the new album. But then I heard “Push and Shove” and it was like the carnival came to town. Turn it up, clear the tables and chairs, and let’s get down! The Diplo-produced track is all over the place, in the best way. Diplo’s Major Lazer collaborative offshoot appears on the track, as well as Busy Signal, who brings the reggae feel that was much beloved on the Rock Steady hits. The track continually slows down, drops and unfolds, creating a marathon of an upbeat, club-ready sound while reiterating Stefani’s strong frontwoman dominance. It’s a modern 2012 hit from band that hasn’t made an album in over a decade. Yet, it doesn’t feel like that; it’s that natural fluidity that has made No Doubt such a reoccurring presence in popular music over their 25-plus year career.
Other Push and Shove highlights include sexy, new-wave, pop ballad “Easy” and the bouncy Caribbean-infused “Sparkle.” Both show streaks of past ska roots and feature more excellent trumpet work by Bradley. “Undercover” is a soaring, 80s pop rock-influenced tune that appears destined for a down-the-road album single.
With all the sixth album excitement, Push and Shove does have a few curious moments. “Undone” begins with an engaging, strumming melody, but only to extinguish to an acoustic ballad, seemingly more fitting for Shania Twain than Gwen Stefani. “Gravity” comes off as tired, and a little repetitive. I’ve only listened to the song maybe a dozen times, but it already feels like it’s been far more than that.
Despite what anyone says, No Doubt has held a prominent place in music over the last two decades (with notable heavy rotation during the Tragic Kingdom domination of the mid-90s and the Rock Steady hit explosion of the early 2000s.) Push and Shove launches No Doubt full force into a new decade. Yeah it’s likely not going to take over modern music as we know it, but it’s also, and more importantly, not out of place in it. And how many once popular 90s bands would kill for just that?