The story behind No Doubt's sixth album, Push and Shove is oddly familiar. The band put out a record a few years ago, toured, and then fell off the radar for a bit. It took No Doubt seven years to follow up Tragic Kingdom with Return of Saturn. The album wasn't quite as good as its predecessor, but it was a treat after all those years. Tracks like "Ex-Girlfriend" and "New" didn't stray too far from the band's signature sound, while songs like "Simple Kind of Life" and "Bathwater" broke new ground for a constantly evolving band.
The same can be said about Push and Shove. No Doubt is back after 11 years and has once again evolved. Various songs build off of the band's definitive sound, but as whole, Push and Shove finds No Doubt in new territory. This begs an important question-- can one band have two comeback albums in its career?
After an 11-year wait, fans were thirsty for new material. Most were probably happy to hear anything that wasn't another Gwen Stefani solo album, but was it worth the wait? Perhaps. It's great news that No Doubt is writing music again, and there's a good chance they'll go on a US tour here soon, but the album is so-so overall.
Taken out of context from the rest of No Doubt's work, the first half of the album is decent. Gwen Stefani's vibrato is instantly recognizable, but the songs sound like some weird midpoint between No Doubt and her solo material. Aside from ska influences randomly peppered into songs like "Sparkle" and "Looking Hot," Push and Shove sounds like Stefani is fronting a new wave band, and not No Doubt.
This album is weird from the get-go. It's packaged well, that's for sure, sporting a street art-style cover by Phoenician-turned-Angeleno El Mac. The first 40 seconds of "Settle Down" sound like something you'd hear in a yoga studio, then there's a random clip of kids playing. Once No Doubt actually gets down to business (fast forward to about 1:35), the song sounds like it could have been a mellow outtake from an older No Doubt album with the addition of some funky beats.
"Looking Hot" employs a weird combination of new wave and ska that sets the tone for the jerky tone shifts throughout the album.
The title track is one of the best examples of that. The chorus is catchy as hell and Major Lazer has a cool part, but the verses and the chorus don't quite fit together.
As the album progresses, the songwriting gets sloppier. "Gravity" has some of Stefani's cheesiest lyrics to date. It's not quite as bad as all of those songs about Harajuku girls, bananas, and L.A.M.B., but there are ridiculous astronomical-themed lines such as "We can swim the Milky Way like star crossed lovers do/I never really thought we'd ever make it out this far, did you?" The beat is catchy, but the constant comparison of her happy relationship to gravity is distracting.
The lyrics don't get much better on the following song,"Undercover."
"Curiosity/a cat up in a tree/want you to get me down/but I'm scared of what I'll see," sings a scaredy cat Stefani, who manages to throw in some private eye references.
The album gets even stranger from there, with the subdued, mostly acoustic track "Undone," which doesn't really fit anywhere on the record. Stefani is hurting and she's ready to give up. Our fearless protagonist has been in this position plenty of times, but unlike "Don't Speak," it's difficult to cheer her on and see fault in the guy who broke her heart.
The same sentiments are expressed on "Sparkle," which is a bit more upbeat and danceable thanks to its moody new wave-inspired mix of bass and synths.
The last two songs, "Heaven" and "Dreaming the Same Dream" have the strongest electronic influence of the whole album. The five minute closing song is pretty good, but once again doesn't sound like a typical No Doubt song. Push and Shove finds the band maturing and exploring new sounds (albeit mostly new wave), but No Doubt purists will most likely be disappointed with this record.
In spite of uneven songs, there are some worthwhile tunes. The first half of the record is pretty solid, with "Push and Shove," "Looking Hot," "Settle Down," and "One More Summer" clustered together as standout songs.
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When I watched the music video for "Push and Shove," I was ambivalent until I realized that the chorus was stuck in my head a few hours later. The song grew on me, and the album has the potential to do so as well. It does not have the same immediate impact as an album like Tragic Kingdom, but can a band really pull that off every time?