Gwen Stefani hung up her pop shoes in 2006 with The Sweet Escape, which spawned bona fide hits in the clunky “Wind
Up” and more noticeable “The Sweet Escape” with Akon. No Doubt hadn’t released a proper studio effort since 2001’s Rock Steady. Do the math and folks with the materialization of 2012’s Push & Shove , that is an 11-year hiatus. Lots of stuff goes down in 11 years – biologically, emotionally, and most pertinent here musically. How does a veteran band ‘comeback’ after such a long hiatus and remain relevant? Well No Doubt manage to maintain their ska stylings, add some modern pop swirls and adapt some retro stylings (80s of course). The results are solid, though not always/necessarily exceptional.
The Musical Selections
“Settle Down” is arguably the best cut of the effort. Exotic and embracing ska to the fullest, this cut sounds like signature No Doubt easily getting stuck in your head. I found myself singing the feel-good single (“Get get get in line and settle down…”). Vocally, Stefani sounds her most captivating here. “Looking Hot” has an overt driving pop groove. At first, I thought the cut sounded a bit more like ‘generic’ pop, but I’ll admit it grew on me. Gwen questions oncoming middle age, judging by the lyrics of the cut: “Do You think I’m looking hot? Do you think this hits the spot/how is this looking on me, looking on me…” “Go ahead and stare/and take a picture please, if you need, yeah/I think that says it all…” Stefani’s vocals get a bit covered on the verses, though she shines on the chorus. The pop-nature is replaced by ska/reggae fodder (big surprise) on the bridge, eventually going pop once more. Two cuts in, No Doubt don’t do too badly for themselves.
“One More Summer” has more of a ‘rock’ quality, opening initially with electric guitar. Eventually electric guitar is superseded by synths along with a 4/4 thudding beat. “One More Summer” is a bit safe, conservative in light of “Settle Down” or”Looking Hot.” Title track “Push & Shove” is characterized by a pounding beat, wacky production, and agile vocals and can be described as manic, unique, and cutting-edge. The list songwriters is the longest of the entire album and includes Diplo. The cut features Busy Signal and Major Lazer, who also co-produces with Mark “Spike” Stent. The fused elements of dubstep, ska, and pop are noteworthy, as is Stefani’s chorus: “You work it hard (you work it)/boy you got me good/ow you push and shove (push and shove)/ooh boy you’re hustlin’ me…” What a song.
“Easy” is solid, though less enthralling than “Settle Down” or “Push & Shove.” It is more standard ‘fare’ than cutting edge like either of the aforementioned. A highlight here includes Stefani’s vocal grit achieved by the end. “Gravity” feels safe, though sports a catchy chorus (“A million miles and it fades/we’re into orbit now we’re safe/so don’t let me go/don’t ever let me float away//we’re so luck/still holding on/just like Venus and the morning sun/you and me got gravity…” “Undercover” possesses an 80’s sensibility and makes sound use of a big bass line, synths, and electric guitar. While the musical cues allure and the brevity is appreciated (3:31), the band feels a bit ‘uninspired’ here.
“Undone” is well produced by all means and well paced. Timbre (and some style) changes continue to highlight this effort eliminating some predictability. “Sparkle” possesses an excellent tropical-soul feel, though the song itself doesn’t live up to the timbre it sports (solid, not exceptional). “Heaven” is highlighted by its bridge section: “Don’t have to get technical/you know that I want you/Don’t have to get technical/you know that I want you.” Overall, it is ‘close, but no cigar’ to being amongst the best cuts of the albums. Closing cut “Dreaming the Same Dream” opens with Stefani asking the question “Who taught you how to love?” Characterized by thudding beat and later a fat bass line, the sound is great (like every other cut). Also like the latter half of Push & Shove, the cut is merely solid, not revolutionary or particularly earth-shattering following an 11 year hiatus.
General Impression (aka the Conclusion Snitches!)
All in all, Push & Shove works, but does not impress like No Doubt‘s past work. It is a solid album, but save for a couple of cuts (“Settle Down,” “Looking Hot,” and “Push & Shove” among them), the album seems too safe where fans probably were waiting for something ‘cutting edge’ like the best cuts of this effort spread over 11 cuts. Rolling Stone stated that Gwen Stefani doesn’t have ‘the voice’ she once had. I’m not sure I would go that far, but at times she seems less inspired than she did back when. Not bad, not the ‘second coming’ either.