No Doubt

Return of Saturn
(Interscope)

It had to happen. Pop-tart Gwen Stefani -- pretty as she can be with a midriff for the ages -- celebrated a special birthday recently: the dreaded three-oh. And by industry standards -- those sad, governing, youth-obsessed and number-crunching principles -- such a cosmic reckoning usually means one thing: Keep the salt lick and denture grip handy, folks -- grandma's ready for pasture. But not before blubbering on and frickin' on about all three of life's injustices: A) "bad boys"; B) being helplessly drawn to "bad boys"; and C) kicking herself for knowing that only "bad boys" are capable of dumping her on her pert little poodle-skirted heinie. To make matters worse, the new "Ex-Girlfriend" has a poodle skirt, too! And what if she has a better, younger heinie? Some poodle-skirted interlopers, you see, are certified Gwenna-bes. And they're everywhere -- heinies in tow! (Cue up "Staring Problem" for insight into this disturbing new trend.) Thankfully there's Saturn -- the faithful planet that realigns itself with its original position at any old frump's given birth -- in this case our sad, creaking Gwendaline.

Think of it as "Journey to the Center of the, Like, Way Way Postadolescent Valley Girl." Better never than late, this fashion-obsessive follow-up to the double platinum-selling Tragic Kingdom would be easier to swallow if the merchandisers weren't packaging it as so much glamorized poodle-heinie: dyed, perfumed, sickeningly cute -- not to mention the band's glaring and reckless disregard for good, black leather. Oh yeah, the music: Sporting a screaming fuchsia coif, the chanteuse -- make that fuchsianteuse -- regurgitates her latest batch of pop with a decidedly nostalgic bent for '80s-era new wave. It's Missing Persons meets Oingo Boingo in a Split Enz nightmare. Simon LeBon taken hostage, mistreated, left for fashionably dead. Stretch limos and smog. Reaganomics and mullet cuts so bad you wake up screaming. Jesus H. Marimba! Didn't it suck enough the first time around?

Take a tune like the synth-dredged "Magic's in the Makeup" and try not to picture anorexics in flapjack powder hawking wares for Revlon or Maybelline. Take "Artificial Sweetener," another mopey ballad in which Pinkie realizes that a me-first credo gets in the way of "finding herself" -- the irony of it all! Why not ask the neighbors for a cup of sugar? It might mean leaving the house, that's why, and as Dale Bozzio said back in da day: "nobody walks in L.A." Combining cold studio gloss-and-kick with tired electronic hookery, producer Glen Ballard beefs up this sure-fire dud without many traces of the very sound that put Humpty Dumpee on the map to begin with: ska. "Marry Me" slow-dances with ska's hipper cousin, reggae -- proof that No-No should spark more of the good green Elitch -- but, like the rest of the disc, this spinster/fairy princess dilemma wallows incessantly in its own self-made helplessness. And for all the lost little girls out there pining away for a "bad boy" to come make it all better, you'd totally empower yourself more by listening to Patti Smith or Joan Jett . . . snore.

 
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