No Doubt struggles to balance old and new sounds

During their time apart, the members of No Doubt embarked on individual projects and experimented with different styles of music. The most notable of these endeavors was lead singer Gwen Stefani’s pair of solo albums, which spawned numerous dance-pop hits such as “What You Waiting For?” and “Hollaback Girl.” Now, a decade after their last record, the band that brought ska-punk to the masses is back with “Push and Shove,” their sixth studio album that struggles between staying true to their punk roots and heading in a new pop direction.

“Push and Shove” starts off poorly with chaotic tracks like “Settle Down” and “Looking Hot,” which sound as though the band took two different songs and mashed them into one. The group’s trademark elements like steel drums and brass instruments are still present, but when combined with excessively layered vocals and an apparent lack of rhythm, the result is a set of tracks without a clear direction.

But the album does hit a stride halfway through, once the songs stop trying to resemble those from prior records and surrender completely to dance-pop. Interestingly enough, the album’s two best tracks, “Undone” and “Dreaming the Same Dream,” sound like they belong on Stefani’s solo record, not a new No Doubt record. Blending a variety of sounds and influences ranging from a twangy acoustic guitar and classical piano to synth beats reminiscent of Daft Punk, the last five tracks on the album indicate that the resurrected band might have a future after all.

The source of the chaos is easy to identify: Stefani is a pop star in a punk band. It’s hard to unite such drastically different styles, and this struggle is audible on the majority of this record’s tracks. This same problem afflicted the Strokes last year with the release of “Angles” following a five-year hiatus. After pursuing individual projects, the band found itself facing five different directions and did not know which path to take. The result was a fragmented record that sounded as if it was made by a variety of artists instead of a single band.

Perhaps becoming a dance-pop band is not such a bad move for No Doubt. It is unreasonable to expect a group of mature, adult musicians to resume the angry punk image they embodied when they were young, and the key to longevity as a band is to adapt to a changing world. We certainly don’t need another group of middle-aged rockers singing about how hard it is to be young. If No Doubt can find a way to keep themselves from becoming Stefani’s back up band, there just might be a place for them in pop music today.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 27 print edition. AlexandrIa Ethridge is a staff writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com. 

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