If No Doubt never made another album after 2001's Rock Steady, that release would have been a more than honourable way to ride off into the sunset, as I considered it the band's best...at least until I heard their newest LP, Push And Shove. The extensive gap between albums was a result of the group needing a break, the desire of band members to start families, and the massive success of lead singer Gwen Stefani's solo career in the mid 2000s. All of that coincided with her further ascendance as a pop culture heavyweight via the launch of her own fashion line and a cosmetics endorsement that made her face seemingly ubiquitous in magazines and on TV screens. With all the glitzy distractions, my biggest take-away from Stefani's last decade is that none of her solo music came close to engaging me in the same way that her work with No Doubt bandmates Tony Kanal (bass), Adrian Young (drums), and Tom Dumont (guitars) had. And don't even get me started on the alienating effect of that weird human accessory flirtation she had with those Harajuku Girls. A lot of acts nowadays do a fine job of mining the 80s synth pop sound (three of them are right here in Canada with Stars, Metric, and Dragonette), but few do it better than No Doubt. Push And Shove finds the band returning to that comfortable territory, with an extra healthy measure of the familiar SoCal punk, ska, and reggae sounds they've always indulged in.
Push And Shove is loaded with hit song potential, if that's something that has any meaning left in the pop music wasteland we currently reside in. The title track dabbles in trendy dubstep and if any band has demonstrated a deft ability to pull off the integration of different musical styles, it's No Doubt. I'm conscious while writing my reviews to not be too repetitive with my takes on things, which isn't always easy when you're writing regularly and sticking mostly to a review format. My last review for an album by Dead Sara comments on the considerable amount of genre mixing in their sound and it's nearly impossible to write a No Doubt album review and not mention this is well, so I've pretty much painted myself into a corner here in having to go to that same well once again. Along with the title track's dubstep explorations, the song also showcases heavy ska and dancehall reggae elements (and a vocal appearance by reggae artist Busy Signal), with everything anchored by a hooky pop-rock chorus. The ska and reggae sound dominates two other catchy tracks, "Sparkle" and the bouncy "Settle Down". It's a testament to this foursome's songwriting skills and musical execution that as someone who has no interest in ska, reggae (aside from Bob Marley), or most disposable 80s synth-based music, I can latch on so willingly to the group's stylistic crossovers. A more traditional pop sound is adopted for the summer love lament of "One More Summer" and the laid back, appropriately titled "Easy". "Gravity" and "Heaven" are a couple of other hugely infectious pop numbers, with gooey lyrics from Stefani for her hubby, musician Gavin Rossdale. Some of the affectionate words, such as references about "holding on", are also likely directed towards No Doubt's other three members. "Looking Hot", which lyrically appears to be taking a mild swipe at the paparazzi, is probably my favourite track. More highly pleasing melodies, Stefani's immediately identifiable and endearingly weird vocal style, a great mid-song reggae breakdown...what's not to love?
The musical chameleons of No Doubt pick right up, in terms of quality, where they left off 11 years ago. Push And Shove is the sound of a group that sounds creatively refreshed, loose, and clearly happy to be playing together once again. Love the album cover, too.