Album Watch: No Doubt 'Push and Shove' Right On Back

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The last time we checked in with the band that sprouted from Orange County, California, they were sipping chamomile, in a rock steady groove, and feeling hella good about it. It was 2001 and No Doubt had released Rock Steady, a genre bending sound carnival that brought them chart-toppers and gilded gramophones, all much deserved. The Rock Steady era also ushered in the band as a high-polished mainstream act, erasing the memory of their early 90's raid as bright-eyed Ska kids for the quirky, ahead-of-the-curve college crowd. The shifting of sound and style is where we left off, we left off in the middle of the heatwave, and have returned in a cool-down of sorts.

In the in-between time since Rock Steady, we were treated to the band's collected singles, a glorious Talk Talk refashion of "It's My Life", and front-woman, Gwen Stefani's solo sojourn. While it was all so palpable and Stefani tripped the bubble pop electric quite well alone, the void that No Doubt left was felt, as not since had a band brought the universal party like them (Black Eyed Peas tried, oh, man did they try...).

After reuniting and touring for three years, along comes Push and Shove the foursome's first album in over a decade, their sixth overall. Yet, like coming back home after being away for a lengthy period of time, though surroundings seem to look the same, the sounds, and the faces in that space have definitely changed, making No Doubt's plunge back into the spotlight a very interesting one. Do these 'old dogs' learn new tricks? What kind of audience are they trying to obtain in a mutated genre? Where do these veterans of sound find a foothold while the spry newbies take over? This is where Push and Shove sucks it's teeth, shrugs, and says, "Who freaking cares?"

Those looking for a serious Ska revival from this record should just keep your arse in the 90's. Spin some Sublime, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, or Save Ferris and really, shut up. Push and Shove is not about No Doubt trying to go Ska again --- that idea went out the window with 2000's Return Of Saturn. Sure there are elements, extra ingredients of Ska in No Doubt's mix of sound (thanks to the ever-present squealing brass section consisting of background members, Stephen Bradley and Garbrial McNair) as they certainly began their careers on that path, but Pop-Rock has always been the foundation of the band's gamut. Ska was merely a candy coating, if you will, for them in later years, it was always what made them stand-out and made them the uncomformists that they are.

Push and Shove's overall make-up shouldn't come as a shocker to those who consider themselves fans or just mere passer-bys, as the album exemplifies and cements the fact that No Doubt can still craft catchy tunes and keep things pretty balanced. In a time where gimmicks, antics, and wacky wardrobe choices make all the difference on if you can push your single up the sloping chart, Push and Shove from it's music to it's overall essence, is an oxygen tank of past reality, especially the past reality of the band themselves.

Time isn't wasted as things rocket launch off with the exceptional first single, "Settle Down", and it treds familiar territory but still zips around deliciously. "Looking Hot" bends and sways in a gritty guitar groove that marches on in shimmering synth brilliance. Gliding in after that is "One More Summer" and it climbs wonderfully with Stefani's electric energy driving the song into a spirited surge. It is obvious with three songs in that No Doubt have immersed themselves in the 80's, even more so than before. Most of every song here sounds massive, multi-layered, dense, and even mellow in some instances, and it heralds a late 80's band aesthetic that seems to have been lifted straight from a soundtrack of a John Hughes movie. Listens like the part dreamy, part percolating "Heaven" and "Undercover" in it's shower of guitars and Stefani's rousing vocals anchor the album in this flashback.  

As mentioned, Push and Shove does indeed dip into more reflective pieces, pieces that seem a little docile for even them. Yet, we have to remember that in eleven years, marriage, and families reformed the band's ideal, which is why growth does show amid the album's fabric. Tracks like "Gravity" and the shimmering swinging coda, "Dreaming The Same Dream" sport this ideal, and when they go power pop ballad, the best example being the masterpiece that is "Easy", they really soar. "Easy" is exactly the song that should be single material for them, it reminds one of yes, "Don't Speak", but not in how it sounds but how it's constructed, it's intelligent and layered as it takes-off, it's the type of slow burn ballad that rarely gets done these days and for those who remembers songs of this ilk will usher it in like old times.

No Doubt do touch on their roots from time to time, as you get small morsels here and there like the zany "Sparkle" which is nestled into a Ska-lite groove. Still little out-of-bounds do they get in order to sound like a paper-thin Top 40's band. When they do attempt to blend the candy coat of Ska into a modern setting it does become their weakest moment. This happens on the dub-step dance-hall chug of the title track, as appearances from Diplo, Busy Signal, and Major Lazer, do little to propel it to where it needs to be as it comes off as clunky and contrived. When No Doubt really stick to what they know and not pay attention to what is on airwaves, and execute a very Cali-New Wave vibe, is where they really shine and keep on being the accessible band they always were.

Gwen and the guys (bassist, Tony Kanal, guitarist, Tom Dumont, and drummer, Adrian Young) don't really break any new ground with Push and Shove and really that's not the album's duty. It's duty is about reawakening. It's opening a window, soaking in what was familiar, but also welcoming whatever is to come. Push and Shove is crafted for those who like to indulge in a band that has been around, been in conscious for over 20 years, and who like to relish in the sheer fact that have molded an album that is accessible, infectious, heartfelt, and doesn't strive to be what it isn't. This is what nonconformity sounds like, this is No Doubt as they have always been, and will continue to be.

Welcome back.

Release Date: September 25, 2012
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  1. It's a grower, I got my advance copy from my indie record store on Friday last week & had been spinning it until I was ready to write my review. Good work.-QH

    1. Nothing can top 'Tragic Kingdom' or 'Rock Steady', so I went into this with that idea, and was pleasantly surprised. It does get better and better with each play and I'm in love with a lot of the tracks ("One More Summer", "Easy", "Heaven" for starters). What I'm really getting giddy about is that No Doubt didn't try to dumb down their sound to appease to a younger audience and a mainstream chart. It sounds modern, but not so in some instances. This album just suits them wonderfully IMO.

      I hate to say it but Madonna needs to take note of what No Doubt just did on 'Push and Shove' on how you can still be yourself, but still sound fresh.


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