By Matthew T. Murray
No Doubt’s infectious sound of what can only be described as ska-pop returns with the release of their sixth studio album “Push and Shove.” After eight years, is the magic still there?
Just look at No Doubt’s “Push and Shove” cover art. Bad-ass blonde bombshell Gwen Stefani and her troupe of punkish boy toys have returned after a near-decade hiatus. ‘Separated’ for eight years with no plan to divorce or reunite, No Doubt hasn’t released a studio album in eleven years and it’s been a whopping seventeen years since “Tragic Kingdom” (1995) ignited air waves, bringing their under-the-radar band to a fever pitch. In 2004, screeching brakes halted No Doubt’s roving success while Gwen Stefani rose to the upper echelons of Hollywood celebrity– rolling out clothing lines, fragrances, platinum solo albums and a Harajuku phenomenon that gave legions of bespectacled fan boys boners.
Now, Stefani and the gang have returned with their sixth studio album “Push and Shove.” Considering “Tragic Kingdom” was released when the iPod was only one month old and the children of our generation were prepubescent acne-clad messes, I had to wonder how the quartet would fare in a new musical landscape (consider that Little Miss Rihanna has already released six studio albums during No Doubt’s disappearance). Do not fear, though. No Doubt is back and, to be as cliché as possible, better than ever.
A mature sophistication and new sound marks the album, so if you are expecting a showcase of nonstop ska sonic, it has come the time to peruse your cassette collection under the bed and whip out No Doubt’s antiquated titles. This doesn’t mean that quintessential No Doubt sounds have been all together replaced. The album still has catchy, bombastic tunes and even a few numbers you can ‘dutty wine’ and get down to – the title track, “Push and Shove,” an infusion of ska/dub with spitfire rap verses from Stefani is one such number you won’t want to miss and the track “Sparkle” makes me want to partake in a piña colada-fueled slow dance till the sun rises on a remote Jamaican playa. These two aren’t the only upbeat sensations from the album. “Heaven” is a buoyant number with a swoon-worthy chorus that seems to evoke Kylie Minogue’s throwback singles until Stefani’s swinging verse comes in and shatters the traditional pop sounds of the intro. Also noteworthy is “Looking Hot” – a catchy and lyrically genius song that underscores how Stefani, at 42 and as a mother of two, is still, well, looking hot.
The strength of the album is in the dichotomy of No Doubt’s music – they never stick to the singular marvelous sounds of ska and instead keep the listener on their metaphorical toes as one genre swings and swoons into another (critics have used the words ‘dubstep’, ‘ballads’, ‘ska’, ‘reggae’, ‘pop’ and ‘hip-hop’ in their reviews). Suffice it to say that No Doubt isn’t a one hit wonder – it’s refreshing that their music even now can meld different genres together and still be a sound completely their own.
In every album there is one song that sticks and becomes a mainstay. The incantatory semi-ballad “One More Summer” that nixes the sugary connotation of a typical ballad, hits all the right notes with the perfect amount of nostalgia and edge. Currently spearheading Target’s new commercials, which feature the band crooning atop a neon car amidst an L.E.D-fueled Wonderland, “One More Summer” is pure genius. The song can only be described as an ode to ubiquitous breakup anthems as it replaces traditional gushiness with a soaring chorus that sounds more like a call to arms post-breakup. If you have just broken up with your belligerent boyfriend and all you have been able to do is eat Ben and Jerry’s while weeping to The Notebook, it is time to go for a late night cruise to Bagels N a Whole at 2 AM while blasting this song as loud as your speakers will permit. (If you have just broken up with your girlfriend, I prescribe 2 Chainz, some hard liquor and a night out to the Bench to bump and grind with some butter face bitches in Forever 21 dresses and Charlotte Russe heels).