No Doubt are one of those bands which are hard to categorise and thus makes it difficult for people like me to dismiss them as “that rock band” or “that hip hop outfit”. No Doubt have rarely played the same trick twice, and the sheer diversity of this retrospective pays tribute to the fact that they have never rested on their laurels or stuck to a formula.
This retrospective traces the Californians from 1992’s kooky, almost novelty single Trapped in a Box to the recent cover version of Talk Talk‘s It’s My Life. The band’s pick’n’mix approach to musical styles means that their single output has been fairly hit and miss over the past ten or so years. While there are some absolutely corking singles here, there are some pretty awful ones.
Many of the album’s high points come from Gwen Stefani’s lyrics, which deal principally with coming to terms with her own femininity. “I’m the kind of girl that hangs with the guys” she admits on Hey Baby, while on Simple Kind of Life she questions her own independence – “I always thought I’d be a mom/Sometimes I wish for a mistake/The longer I wait the more selfish that I get.”
This theme is set with the album’s opener, Just a Girl – a brattish feminist outburst delivered with an arch playfulness which peppers many of No Doubt’s songs, and continued with Trapped in a Box and Ex-Girlfriend, which both express pure frustration at the constraints of the female stereotype.
Other high points on the album come from the band’s collaborations with various hip producers. Roping in the omnipresent Neptunes and production talents of Nellee Hooper bring some Kelis-style funkiness to Hella Good while Sly and Robbie aid the dancehall ragga of Hey Baby.
The forays into reggae are less successful – Underneath It All, a collaboration with former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, is an embarrassingly self-conscious reggae pastiche, unimproved by a guest rap from Jamaican dancehall queen Lady Saw. Similarly, Bathwater is an uncomfortable merging of 40s-style dance music and a Madness-style ska.
While there’s no mistaking Gwen Stefani’s unmistakable warbling vocal style, listening to this album makes you wonder how it could possibly have been made by the same band. The somewhat random tracklisting of this compilation adds to a hotch-potch feel – even the massive breakthrough single Don’t Speak is buried towards the end of the album. A chronological order would at least have provided an insight into the band’s development over the past ten years.
If The Singles shows nothing else, it’s that unquestionably, Gwen Stefani is at the heart of the band’s success. One of the few female stars with plenty to say and genuine individuality, she has true potential to achieve iconic status. I rather hope that this retrospective is more of an appetiser of things to come from Mrs Rossdale’s forthcoming solo album rather than a summing up of a life’s achievement.