Push And Shove
It’s been eleven years since No Doubt released an album of new material. In that time they’ve given fans a batch of best of compilations while anatomically crippling front woman Gwen Stefani made us hate the word “Bananas” with the 2004 single “Holla Back Girl” from her first solo record Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (she had another solo album in 2006 but nobody cared). After all the fashion shows, false starts and solo records, No Doubt have reconvened to try and reclaim their power grip on Top 40 Radio.
I was not expecting like Push And Shove for the simple reason that I don’t like No Doubt. Outside of Tragic Kingdom, which I still enjoy, most of their music has been a sloppy attempt to recapture the ska-punk vibe of that record. I guess the eleven years out of the spotlight have given the band some perspective on their music because Push And Shove is a power-pop album of the highest order. I know, I know, call the board of underground music and start the paperwork to have my bitter music critic license revoked because man, I really dig this record.
The first thing that works is No Doubt have given up trying to be ska-punk. Push And Shove is a massive pop endeavor, complete with lots of electronics and super catchy dance numbers. Even when the band slow down for the predictable ballads, they keep this eighties electronica vibe that just works. Stefani was born to sing this kind of easy and sweet material. The opening track, “Settle Down” has a bump and grind beat to it, kind of reminiscent of “Holla Back Girl”. It’s light and airy and instantly make you want to shake your butt. The party continues with “Looking Hot”, a straight up club banger with a thumping bass/drum line that will not only get the party jumping but I guarantee will play behind endless models walking the runways of Milan and Paris.
“One More Summer” is the band’s first ballad but they keep the dance theme. Think Bananarama meets “Crazy For You” era Madonna. “Easy” replaces the boogie down with a song straight off the end credits of any epic teen romance movie. “Easy” sweeps high and uses Stefani’s voice and keyboards to plug those sad panda heartstrings. It doesn’t really talk to the grief and desperation of a failed romance, more the “I’ll get through this” side of breaking up. “Gravity” is back to big pop. The tune you and your friends go to the club and dance to so as to forget that bastard or bitch you just ended things with.
“Undercover” is one of the highlights of Push And Shove. I defy anybody not to start dancing the instant this song kicks in. The combination of Stefani’s vocal line, starry keyboards and disco back beat has instant club hit written all over it. The rest of the album keeps up the pop soufflé of party anthems with the exception of “Undone” a well-executed ballad that frames the power of Stefani’s pipes nicely.
If I had any complaints it would be that No Doubt didn’t end the album with “Heaven”. It’s one of the strongest tunes on Push And Shove and it works much better as an ender than “Dreaming The Same Dream” which is forgettable. The only real problem with the album is the title track. “Push And Shove” is the only time No Doubt try to get all reggae/ska and it sounds way too posed and forced. The first three songs are so strong that “Push And Shove” is like hitting a stonewall. Thankfully the rest of the record is good enough to get around it.
I really wanted to hate this album because I don’t like this band, but I can’t. I feel like Jack Black in High Fidelity listening to the demo tape from the shoplifting skate kids. The fact that I’m enjoying this album so much is working against my predisposition of bile towards Stefani and crew. Is Push And Shove and important record? No, not at all. Is it pure pop confection with little weight to it? Absolutely. Stefani’s voice is more an instrument here, something pretty to go atop the music. Her lyrics are as simple and forgettable as they always have been but what else can she do. Deep lyrics about the anguish of life played over dance beats has only ever worked for New Order.
Eleven years after they left the scene, No Doubt have returned and brought with them a pop arsenal that will blow a hole through anything else currently making waves in Top 40 Radio.