This past summer’s trend of disappointing comeback albums from 1990s acts continues into autumn with No Doubt’s new “Push and Shove.”
The latest letdown is a bit more shocking than its predecessors because No Doubt seems to field much more talent than the likes of Smash Mouth, Blues Traveler and Soul Asylum. Plus No Doubt lead vocalist Gwen Stefani has kept her profile up in the 2000s with solo hits.
Although the California ska band — or quasi-ska band — musters a better impression than those other acts from the ’90s, it’s not markedly better.
It’s been 11 years since No Doubt’s last album, and in the interim the four members, who now range in age from 42 to 44, have all solidified their outside relationships and become parents. Nevertheless, “Push and Shove” doesn’t display a lyrical departure from their glory days, though it does reveal a degradation of musicianship. Stefani is the only clearly recognizable member in the mix — albeit not as sharply defined as in her better solo work — while bass player Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young are fairly indistinct apart from the buoyant dancehall/ska activity that circulates around on some tracks.
No Doubt performs "Settle Down"
A few of the standout cuts sound better with repeated listens: Stefani impatiently swells out of the Bollywood cinematics of opener “Settle Down” for an endearing refrain of “Nothing’s gonna knock this girl down,” and the sprawling, dance-friendly “One More Summer” packs low-grade infection. Also, “Easy” goes for a luxurious ambience of electronic heft.
The title track — produced by Major Lazer (Diplo and Switch) — is easily the best cut, playfully akin to Stefani’s solo hit “What You Waiting For?” and delightfully weird as it abruptly changes time signatures, alternating between carnivalistic whim and high drama.
By contrast, many of the other tracks sound worse with repeated listens, especially as “Push and Shove” stretches from its midpoint to its conclusion. The album feels like it’s flattening out, the ambition of earlier tracks dissolving as the group just phones it in.
The bland fadeout is a buzzkill, possibly reflecting rusty skills or perhaps a shift of band members’ focus to their busy personal lives.
All that’s missing is the sound of a door slamming as they rush out to pick up the kids.
Rating: 3 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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