It’s been 11 years since No Doubt‘s last studio album, “Rock Steady,” and 17 since “Tragic Kingdom” produced hits “Just A Girl,” “Spiderwebs” and “Don’t Speak.” Listening to “Push And Shove,” the group’s fifth studio album, and it’s often difficult to tell where the time went.
Largely unconcerned with modern radio trends — save for a semi-dubstep chorus on the Major Lazer-assisted title track — “Push and Shove” is a celebration of No Doubt’s love for all things 80s pop and the Southern California ska scene. Though the reception has been mixed for dancehall-inflected lead single “Settle Down,” there are singles to spare on “Push and Shove,” many of which rival and occasionally harken back to their biggest hits. “Looking Hot,” for example, is a guitar-heavy rave-up in the style of 2001’s “Hella Good,” but with a surprise Jamaican horn breakdown straight out of “Spiderwebs.” Then there’s “Undone,” the closest No Doubt has come to a reaching-for-the-rafters power ballad since “Don’t Speak.”
Recorded across Los Angeles over a two-year-plus time period with producer/mixer Mark “Spike” Stent, “Push and Shove” begs to be played live. And indeed, the band will preview the album at the iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas before kicking off a small residency at Los Angeles’ Gibson Ampitheater in December (a proper U.S. tour is expected sometime in December.)
Which are the best tracks on No Doubt’s comeback album? Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review of “Push and Shove.”
1. Settle Down
A perfect table-setter for what’s to come, “Settle Down” is a welcome trip back to the band’s dancehall roots. It doesn’t have a giant hook or riff that’s going to set pop music aflame the way previous hits did, but serves more as a reward to longtime fans – and the band themselves, for reuniting after an extended hiatus.
2. Looking Hot – Let the party begin! “Go ahead and look at me / ‘Cuz that’s what I want,” Stefani sings at the beginning of this dance-rock banger, a tongue-in-cheek ode to being a well-preserved frontwoman heading back on the road. Musical proof that Stefani is just as surprised to look as good as she does at 42 (!) as the rest of us.
3. One More Summer – With an opening guitar riff worthy of New Order, No Doubt channels a different side of its longtime love of the 80s on this quasi-breakup anthem. “One more summer / one more weekend / I’m your lover / You’re my weakenss,” Stefani pleads amid pounding drums from Adrian Young. A future live favorite in the making.
4. Push and Shove Feat. Major Lazer and Busy Signal – The album’s sole collaboration (a team-up between Stent and Major Lazer), “Push and Shove” is the closest No Doubt comes to going EDM, with tempo changes straight out of a Skrillex or deadmau5 raver, but driven by a bouncy reggae rhythm throughout. And get ready for the rap-off between Stefani and Busy Signal.
5. Easy – Slowing things down just a tad (“I’m gonna take it easy,” Stefani sings), this track has a laid-back vibe reminiscent of Love Angel Music Baby fave “Luxurious,” and serves as more of a showcase for Stefani’s vocals on the verses before bringing the full band in for a sweeping chorus. Another one that could really find a following on tour.
6. Gravity – Perhaps the album’s most immediate pop song, “Gravity” is introduced with a keyboard squiggle straight out of “Hey Baby,” then a piano loop that could’ve been borrowed from a David Guetta single before jumping into a New Wave groove that suggests the best single Blondie never got to record for Eat to the Beat. “It’s hard to write a love song without sounding cheesy,” Stefani told Billboard in late July of this anthem to husband Gavin Rossdale. “The music going along with it has to not be cheesy.”
7. Undercover – Another jittery, percussive jam destined to make many set lists, “Undercover” explores issues of mistrust in a longtime relationship, ultimately accelerating to an end-of-song key change that finds Stefani begging, “I want to look down in your eyes / I want to take off your disguise.”
8. Undone – “I had said I really hadn’t emotionally felt like we could write a slower song,” Stefani told Billboard in July of “Undone,” the eleventh and final song written for Push and Shove – which, prior to this song’s recording, was about to be a 10-track album. Written over the course of two days by Kanal and Stefani after the latter was able to grab a moment to herself free of child care, the track came almost too quickly Stefani said she was initially insecure. She needn’t be – this is the ballad many fans expected to appear 2000’s underappreciated “Return of Saturn.”
9. Sparkle – A gift to the band’s diehard dancehall fans, “Sparkle” is an Orange County pop song as only No Doubt can make. With lyrics that find Stefani ruminating on an old love with a melody that occasionally recalls Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” “Sparkle” is a true showcase of the full band – percolating drums from Young, prominent bass from Kanal, strong guitarwork from Tom Dumont, not to mention a more-than-welcome brass section to bring the song home.
10. Heaven – A song worthy of the handclaps that introduce it, “Heaven” is another love song that Stefani and co. manage to un-treacle ever so slightly, “Forgive me if I’m being rude / blame my ever-changing mood.”
11. Dreaming the Same Dream – How do you end an album enamored with the 1980s? With a song worthy of the end credits of a John Hughes movie, of course. And “Dreaming The Same Dream” is absolutely No Doubt’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” with cascading drums that deserve to be played while running through the hallways of your high school and a bridge big enough for a football field. Arguably a case of saving the best for last, “Dreaming” is a satisfying coda from a band whose career is just about to crescendo again.