It’s been a loooong week, but I finally have a bit of time to review an album finally! Please try to contain your excitement. So. No Doubt! Has it really been 10 years? In that time frontwoman Gwen Stefani carved out a successful solo career with a slicker RnB-tinged pop sound, in contrast to No Doubt’s ska-sounding but increasingly commercial output. It would be difficult to call what 2012 No Doubt would sound like.
I first encountered No Doubt at the same time as many did, with the global smash “Don’t speak” and parent album “Tragic Kingdom”. As a spotty teen with too much disposable income, with hindsight it’s a surprising purchase (especially as I really don’t like Ska), but nonetheless I had a good summer with that album, and following their career after that. The Greatest Hits was a solid package for a casual fan such as me. But in their hiatus a lot has changed, and big things seemed to be expected. Would it deliver?
08 Settle Down – An arabic-tinge to the intro doesn’t really mesh with the song, but it’s all good. A cheeky bassline kicks the main song off, with a Caribbean rhythm driving the big comeback single. It’s easy listening, and within about 5 seconds Gwen’s vocals are unmistakeable. I know a few people who hate the “hey-hey-hey” hook, but it’s very catchy to my ears. There’s something quite sweet about the chorus, even if it lacks a bit of punch. A crowd-pleaser (in theory anyway), and a good way to kick off the campaign.
06 Looking hot – A rockier feel to this, not sure if it’s supposed to sound conceited or paranoid with those lyrics. Or is it supposed to be about fame-hungry slags? Hopefully not, that’s a pretty well-trodden road isn’t it? The chorus is memorable, though her vibrato bits are memorable for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t seem to lend itself too well to live performances judging by their high-profile spot on UK X-Factor, which I read generated practically zero sales. Things get worse as the ska influences slosh into the action towards the end. These are banished with a dancier beat, but it never quite gets there for me.
08 One more summer – A deep electro synth intro, love that! Now I can imagine No Doubt fans might get annoyed if things sounds too much like Gwen’s solo career (that I can guarantee some of them would detest for whatever reason), so this track might not go down too well. It really does feel like a Gwen solo track (with a U2 backing track). That said, I quite like it. Doesn’t really reach any big crescendo or anything, but it’s straightforwardly listenable. That’s faint praise isn’t it? But I still like it.
09 Push and shove – This really just throws everything into the mix doesn’t it? The ska is back, but in a modern form that doesn’t annoy me (i.e. latter-day No Doubt). The verses are a little bit nothingy aside from their erratic production, but that chorus really works. Catchy and smooth, with a crap-load of production thrown at it. Can’t say I like the rapper guy’s extended stint, but that’s soon over with. The song has middle-eights, additional choruses, it just keeps growing. That last 20 seconds really makes it for me too, “Have a drink if that’s what you want”. A towering layered wedding-cake of a song, welcome back No Doubt.
07 Easy – Get Madonna? Is that what she’s singing at the start? I don’t really see how that would help. Takes a long while to reach the chorus, and I can’t say it’s entirely worth it. The production on the verses is quite nice really, gentle and electronic. This does sound like a L.A.M.B. track though doesn’t it? A song about nothing in particular, but the later choruses are fairly sweet and epic. If this is an album filler, they aren’t doing bad at all.
06 Gravity – Guetta, are you there? Luckily for their credibility that though disappears after the first few seconds. This really IS a bit of filler, but once again there’s nothing I really dislike about it. The verses are a bit of a drag, and it sounds a bit like a more MoR Killers track, but that’s no real crime. Difficult to get too excited about it really.
08 Undercover – Ooh some synths, you know what I want don’t you? A pacier track now, with some lovely electronic washes between choruses and verses. I love the energy in the bridges that just builds as they merge seamlessly into the choruses. It’s got a nice feel to it, and a pleasant instrumental segment near the end. Lovely.
06 Undone – I had to start this one again halfway through as my attention just disappeared. A gruellingly downtempo acoustic plod, it’s almost like a country record. Not that I have anything against country music, it’s just the production on this track. It does build up towards the end, but I never quite get the payoff.
06 Sparkle – Back to a bit of Ska now, though the tempo doesn’t pick up a lot from the previous track. That’s an issue for me here, Gwen’s a great frontwoman, but when she’s not partially drowned-out by production, her tone can be a bit exhausting at the best of times, and quite annoying at the worst of times. Still this isn’t that bad, nothing really that adventurous and therefore nothing really awful comes of it.
06 Heaven – Gwen ponders her present-day existence after her time off over a simple electro-lite backing track. I guess it’s working out well if she thinks she’s in heaven, though she sounds pretty much the same in every song, so you’d be forgiven for not picking up on that. Again it doesn’t really do much for me, just ticks along. Nothing bad, but I’m just losing attention, especially after the last few tracks.
07 Dreaming the same dream – Let’s go out on a bang shall we? OK perhaps not. Starts simply, but it does build quietly into a quite sweet little love song. That chorus is lovely, even if it lacks the hooks of tracks early in the album. I suppose it’s hard to listen to this after so many years with the greatest hits collection as my go-to No Doubt CD, with tracks like “Simple kind of life”, but at least it doesn’t end on a dud.
Well that’s that. First time I’ve really scrutinised a No Doubt album, and it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. I’m probably not going to be a super-fan, nor do I need to be, as the singles seem to be disappearing as soon as they are thrown out, but onwards and upwards, eh? If anything it feels like an album that takes few chances, and that hedging of bets doesn’t play well in the second half of the album, but it’s not a bad way to spend 52 minutes.
Keepers for the iPod: Settle down, One more summer, Push and shove, Undercover