As a member of the generation that’s had more mainstream exposure to Gwen Stefani as a solo act than the frontwoman of No Doubt, my knowledge of her alma mater was most limited to hits like “Hella Good”, “Don’t Speak” and “Hey, Baby.” I was content to think of these tracks as relics of an old great, but like most, was skeptical of any talk of a No Doubt reunion. So when “Settle Down” was released as the lead single off the band’s first album in 11 years, Push and Shove, I was pleasantly surprised. The outfit seemed cool as ever, with the video making me want to be exactly like Gwen, and they appeared to be true to form, offering up a fresh serving of the high energy, ska-punk-reggae-dance that made them famous.
But an extended listen to the entire album is unfortunately making their return a little less triumphant. While “Settle Down” is the perfect throwback to the old No Doubt, it appears to be a strategically-chosen lead single at most, and the exception to the rule in the case of Push and Shove. Any remnants of the old Rock Steady energy are heard as rare bursts on the album. For example, standout tracks like “Sparkle,” with its reggae guitars, trumpet solos and generally instrumental musicality, and “Easy,” that, while heavily synthesized, still manages to recall more mellow oldies like “Running,” immediately recall the band that was.
However, the fact remains that between a heavy dose autotune, a blatant lack of actual instruments and at times inane lyrics, it appears that No Doubt has grown into making music for 2012 in the worst way possible. In the immediate follow up to “Settle Down,” entitled “Looking Hot,” Gwen’s voice comes off heavily manipulated, and is played against a track of synthesized dance beats. Taken in combination with lyrics like, “Do you think I’m looking hot?/Do you think this hits the spot?/I was just looking at me, look at me,” No Doubt’s infamously cool frontwoman, the original 90s rock-goddess, comes across more Confessions on a Dance Floor-era Madonna than anything else.
And so, in some ways, the skeptics were right. Sure, No Doubt got back together, but they might as well be a different band. They’ve retained about as much of the high energy, ska-punk-reggae-dance vibe as my pinky toenail. Change can be good and, really, should have been expected after an 11-year hiatus. But for a band that spent so much energy bucking tradition and overturning the norm, it’s more than a little disheartening to see them really get in line and settle down with the worst that this decade’s music has to offer.