Can No Doubt Push Their Way Out of ’90s Nostalgia?

It’s hard to know what to expect from a No Doubt record in 2012, and not just because of the band’s 11-year hiatus. It’s because Gwen Stefani, icon or not, has not fronted a consistent record in more than a decade. Everything great on Rock Steady (a Prince collaboration!) was jostled by duds like “Running,” which anticipated this decade’s slapdash 16-bit trend, or the overly languid “Underneath It All.” The flashes of brilliance followed Stefani to her steadily more experimental solo career, but beyond the clear standouts (the second half of Love. Angel. Music. Baby), few can agree which experiments actually worked. Was playing Tevye in “Rich Girl” inspired or forbidden Broadway? Were the “Hollaback Girl” cheerleaders badass or brats? About all that’s clear are the experiments, like racial gawking ode “Harajuku Girls,” and much of The Sweet Escape, that were just embarrassing.

“More than 25 years into their career, they’ve become iconic, and while these songs aren’t complicated or experimental anymore, they’re built to scale and scale big.”

So No Doubt’s reunion wasn’t surprising at all. The Sweet Escape fizzled, the alt of the ‘90s is being revived everywhere, and more to the point, the band had been toying with a reunion for years. Selecting Diplo as point producer wasn’t surprising, either — it felt savvy. He’s certainly one of the most exuberant guys working today — even if said exuberance usually manifests itself in military drums and major lasers — and has a way of remaining just shy of overexposure. And his skills aren’t too far off from the raucous big-band freakery of No Doubt’s ‘90s incarnation, on tracks like “Excuse Me Mr.” Two tracks premiered this year, and they met expectations exactly. ”Settle Down” is more a teaser (it’s the album intro), but it’s a great tease, the band rough-horsing its way through So-Cal skank. “Push and Shout,” the Diplo track, is bigger and messier — the band’s called it its “Bohemian Rhapsody” — but still identifiably No Doubt, with raucous, reggae-ish verses, lyrics that strive for hipness (sometimes, as in “la vida loca, we’re speeding it up like soca,” too hard) and a chorus that could hook entire stadiums. Around this time, the band gave interviews talking about the “accidents and mistakes” that were supposedly their recording process. It felt believable. From all indications, Push and Shove was shaping up to pick up where Rock Steady left off: gloriously unwieldy.

Watch the video for “Settle Down”:

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