Sunday, October 21, 2012

No doubt - push and shove

So the year of unexpected 90's bands returning after a long hiatus continues with "Push and Shove" - there is "No Doubt" (yes, I went there) this isn't the No Doubt that ruled the airwaves in the late 90's.  That's a good thing for evolution - not such a good thing other ways.

Starting off, the album feels far more focused than "Rock Steady."  Where that album had a different producer on every single song, that upped the variety, but left the album feeling like a grab bag of styles - and because of that, too unfocused.  Here we have just one hand at the boards (Mark "Spike" Stent) and another I'll mention later - and it helps to unify the sound.

Opener "Settle Down" rides a peppy new wave 80's smashed up with dancehall-lite beat - it's a pleasant welcome back tune.  Stefani's lyrics are less thoughtful than they used to be, but this kind of music isn't built for more weighty things - it's more about having fun.  It comes off a bit too electronic in places, but it's clearly the kind of thing that could be played live and sound good.  "Looking Hot" comes off like a latter-day cousin of earlier track "Hella Good" - it's also the sort of song that is drenched with electro-new-wave touches - but not so heavily layered on that it sounds like it would translate poorly in a live setting.  At one point the eyeball-popping "Go ahead and stare at my ragamuffin" lyric comes along - and one of the things wrong with this album first shows up.  Awkward lyrics like this sandwiched in between others within a song that at least seem to make sense are the name of the game - and this isn't the first time it happens. These moments don't wreck the album, but it makes you wonder how much of a filter the band had in-studio for maybe tweaking things up, changing verses out, etc.. 

 "One More Summer" surprises with a pleasant melody (good thing) and more in a robotic beat (bad thing).  No Doubt has a great drummer with Adrian Young - so it's kind of disappointing that so many of the beats are programmed.  Yes, definitely organic playing shines through here and there, but not nearly often enough as one might expect.

The title track is one of the most fun on the disc - owing no small debt to having Major Lazer (aka Diplo) manning the decks.  He manages to find a way to blend the dancehall meets dubstep beats he creates on his own with the best of No Doubt's live style - and the result is ridiculously good - enough to make you wish the whole album had been produced by him.  They sound like they're having fun, they sound energized, and even with the electro touches, they sound like a BAND more so than on any other track on this album.

"Easy" comes off somewhere in between a "sound triangle" of 3 things - classic no doubt ballad, AOR power-rock, and Gwen Stefani solo disc balladry.  Sounds like it could be a hot mess, but this is one of the better moments of this disc.  Some of the groan-inducing lyrics creep in here and there, but nothing as garish and off the wall as previously heard.

The latter half of the album rides a similar wave of slowed-down dancehall grooves - like the speedier moments of previous disc "Rock Steady" turned down to sleepy, relaxing speed.  "Heaven" picks up the pace a bit, but never approaching the fevered pace of the title track.  "Dreaming the same dream" is a fine closer for many reasons: It sounds more like a band effort, and it sounds lyrically like a celebration of their return mixed deftly with a 5-minutes-long encapsulation of [nearly] everything Stefani has ever sung about.  Quite a hat trick to pull off.

Is this a back to back amazing blast like "Tragic Kingdom" was?  No.  Is it as scattered and suffering-from-identity-crisis as "Rock Steady" was?  Also, no.  It's the kind of album that new fans might not be so keen on, but for long-timers, it's nice just to hear them making music again.  It fits comfortably in the middle ground - and sometimes that's enough.

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