The reunion money train keeps on rolling along. When No Doubt released their last album, the rubble of the Twin Towers was still smouldering, Michael Jackson’s Invincible was the biggest selling record of the year, and a Tweet was the noise that a bird made.
In that time, Gwen Stefani has released two solo albums – the phenomenally successful Love Angel Music Baby, and the less successful Sweet Escape, which saw her collobarating with the unlikely figure of Keane‘s Tim Rice-Oxley. Whether the law of diminishing returns has decreed that Stefani rescue her bandmates from session musician hell is a debatable point, but it’s obvious that a No Doubt reunion remains big news.
The biggest surprise of Push And Shove is that there’s no blatant attempt to cash in on their most famous style. While there’s plenty of nods to ska and reggae, there’s also a continuation of the exploration of dancehall rhythms that began on Rock Steady.
It’s a sound best captured on the title track, a thrilling collaboration with Major Lazer and Busy Signal, and produced by Diplo. Despite Stefani’s irritating tendency to slip into a fake Jamaican patois at times, it’s a gloriously effervescent anthem which makes you wish that Diplo made a few more appearances on the album.
As it is, the majority of the production on Push And Shove is undertaken by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, who gives the album a more radio-friendly sheen than the more abrasive Diplo would have done. At times, it works fine – the gently lilting Sparkle, or the dancehall-lite Settle Down – but too often the album becomes bogged down with some forgettable ballads.
So we have the bland One More Summer, the run of the mill ballad Undone and the rather featureless Gravity. None of which are especially bad, but it’s nothing that’s hasn’t been done before, with far more personality. There’s also the repeated appearance of what’s rapidly becoming the biggest musical cliche of 2012 – the glacial, portentous synth chords swiped straight from the soundtrack of the film Drive.
The band are at their best when they loosen up and raise the tempo. Although nothing comes close to previous career highpoints like Just A Girl or Hey Baby, Something Hot already sounds like a party soundtrack staple, while Heaven soars gloriously. The lyrics throughout the album leave something to be desired (Stefani’s endless insistance that she’s a “hustler”, and the title track actually features the lyric “Just when you think it’s over, we be on another level like we doing yoga”). But to be fair, you don’t listen to No Doubt for deep lyrical meanings.
Push And Shove is a decent, solid pop album, but it lacks the sense of occasion and excitement that you’d expect from a band’s first album in 12 years. If this reunion is to be a permanent one, a bit more risk taking would be appreciated next time round.