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No Doubt shines in return

Sam Stryker | Thursday, September 27, 2012

They’re back. Eleven years, one appearance on “Gossip Girl,” two solo albums and four fragrances by lead singer Gwen Stefani since their last release, No Doubt has triumphantly returned with “Push and Shove,” their sixth studio album. A throwback to our middle-school days, the return of the band is both tantalizing and worrisome. Could the band possibly live up to lofty expectations?
A listener could operate under two assumptions before listening to No Doubt’s latest effort. Either the band had so much pent-up creative energy that they were bound to release their strongest album yet, or after more than a decade away from the studio, No Doubt would be as rusty as the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” Surprisingly, neither of these seems to be true.
“Push and Shove” took a monumental two years to record, and comes with high expectations. If you can imagine an area where the band neither fails to deliver nor exceeds these expectations, this is where “Push and Shove” belongs. No one is going to mistake the album for the band’s magnum opus, but at the same time, it is no “Chinese Democracy,” the disastrous and long-awaited release from Guns ‘n’ Roses. All in all, every one of the album’s 11 tracks feel like they fit in with No Doubt’s catalog. After more than two decades as a band, would you want anything different?
No Doubt has sold more than 33 million records worldwide, won several Grammys and set a record when their single “Don’t Speak” spent 16-consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. At this point in their careers, no one in the band needs to prove anything, nor do they need to “reinvent” their sound or image like Madonna seemingly does every other week. As their last album attests, No Doubt “rocks steady” and their fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Settle Down,” the first single released earlier in the summer, is the standout track off “Push and Shove.” Featuring Stefani’s signature luscious vocals, electric-reggae sound and dancehall-inspired beats, “Settle Down” is signature No Doubt – fun, flirty and the perfect summer jam. The first time you listen, you are reminded the band never fully departed the music scene, because they own the track – no other musical act could produce a similar hit.
Lyrically, the song also sets the tone for the rest of the album. Stefani croons about adjusting to unfamiliar circumstances, but that she will be able to adjust and “settle down.” Despite their 11-year hiatus, the band is indeed fine, and hopefully will stick around for a little longer.
The second single and title track “Push and Shove” is an initial disappointment, but upon further listen is one of the album’s stronger cuts. Featuring Busy Signal and Major Lazer, the song digs even deeper into the band’s ska roots. Perhaps because bassist Tony Kanal said the song was to No Doubt what “Bohemian Rhapsody” was to Queen, the track came with lofty expectations.
Once you walk away from that ambitious statement, one can fully appreciate what “Push and Shove” means to the album – it’s a very modern take on No Doubt’s unique sound. Undoubtedly musical trends have wildly warped in the past 11 years, but the song still sounds fresh and radio-ready, while also sounding like the No Doubt of yore.
Other standouts from the album include the next single, “Looking Hot,” along with “One More Summer” and “Heaven.” “Looking Hot” displays one of Stefani’s strongest vocal traits, the ability to use her pipes as the ultimate emotive communicator. Listening to Stefani sing, it’s impossible to not connect with what she is feeling.
The song also features some awesome guitar synths. “One More Summer” is classic California rock, exactly the type of song you’d be listening to on the California Freeway with the top of your convertible down, sun shining down and wind whipping through your hair.
“Heaven” is a bouncy, ’80s-style track that makes you want to put on your legwarmers and windbreaker. It is bubbly, flirty and the bottled-blonde Stefani once again reigns supreme on the track.
While our middle school days are long gone, you wouldn’t know it listening to No Doubt’s latest release. “Push and Shove” doesn’t break the mold, but it doesn’t need to. At this point in the game, No Doubt has established themselves as the leaders in ska-punk-reggae-California rock – whatever you want to call it – and “Push and Shove” is more of the same. What more could you ask for?