No Doubt – ‘Push’ Their Way To The Pop

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After a ten-year hiatus, No Doubt dropped their new record “Push and Shove” to a critical and commercial shoulder-shrug.  The return record peaked at number three on Billboard’s charts, but to be fair, No Doubt hasn’t sat at the tip-top on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart since “Tragic Kingdom” made its long climb to #1 in December of 1996.  While some music critics have given “Push” a positive review, none were glowing.  Again, to be fair, the low 60s average of critical reviews from Metacritic is pretty par per the band’s last two records, “Rock Steady” and “Return of Saturn.”  The link to those albums does not end there.

No Doubt began as a full-fledged ska band, their first two records being largely straight ska.  Even “Tragic Kingdom” was almost pure ska.  The band then changed directions, while still keeping some ska ingredients on “Return of Saturn,” they incorporated more traditional rock elements, new wave, funk and alt rock flavors.  Pushing even further into future funk, “Rock Steady” mixed the ska/rock with dance, dub, synthpop and electronic.  While it never pushed past third place on the pop charts, “Rock Steady” did produce the group’s most successful singles and a pair of Grammy wins.

No Doubt’s evolution has continued, shying away even further from dirty rock and in to shiny pop.  Many critics feel like “Push” is a posh pursuit of pop, playing into Katy Perry and Dr. Luke territory while leaving their original sound behind.  What that opinion doesn’t account for is that No Doubt is never the same. They change sounds constantly. This record keeps up the energy of “Hella Good” and ventures deeper into New Wave, dub, dance, electronic and pop. Upon first listen, sure it might sound like the present pop on the radio and MTV, but if you listen further, you’ll realize that unlike a lot of that pop, “Push and Shove” is just good music and under the synth is still No Doubt.  In “Looking Hot” you can hear pieces of “Spiderwebs”.  “Undone” recalls the ballad power of “Don’t Speak”.  “Heaven” bounces like “Hella Good”, and in “Push and Shove” the reggae/dub funk of “Hey Baby” and “Sunday Morning.”  And unlike a lot of pop, the musicality of this record is much more dense and complex that it may initially seem.

“Dreaming the Same Dream” closes the record and is probably the best song on the entire album.  My partner has played this record to death on his iPod, the car CD deck and my Technics turntable.  Yet the songs don’t get old. In fact, it is the most accessible, catchy and polished record No Doubt has released so far.  While some fans may have been hoping for another return to Saturn or some tragic ska Kingdom, I am happy with No Doubt pushing and shoving through my stereo all day long.

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