No Doubt ‘Push and Shove' (Interscope)
Of all the bands that emerged in the 1990s ska revival, No Doubt survived longest because the members — singer Gwen Stefani, bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young — never seemed particularly beholden to their original beat of choice. Once neo-ska flamed out, No Doubt still had its knack for pop songs as its resilient core, and by 2001's “Rock Steady,” the Southern California quartet was known as much for its New Wave leanings and lingering side trips into modern R&B.
Not only has it been 11 years since “Rock Steady,” a half-dozen years have elapsed since Stefani's last solo album — entire pop careers lived and died in the interim. As much as any previous No Doubt album, “Push and Shove” is a band effort, and even a throwaway power ballad such as “Easy” still has the stamp of Kanal and Young's rhythmic push. The songs featuring prominent production by Major Lazer and Diplo, the opening salvo “Settle Down” and the title track, sound like intensely modernized takes on the classic No Doubt ska-pop model. These songs, along with the body-conscious ode to graceful aging “Looking Hot,” are “Push and Shove” operating at the level expected from a band with something to prove and a decade-long gap to fill.
But a critique based on whether No Doubt still sounds like No Doubt sets the bar a little low and perhaps misses the point. When the group is exercising its other primary influence, 1980s pop, No Doubt inadvertently calls attention to the band that essentially filled the need for intense New Wave worship in their absence, The Killers. It's not much of a stretch to imagine Brandon Flowers passionately howling “Dreaming the Same Dream” or “Undercover.” They are solid pop songs, especially “Dreaming,” which culminates in a swooning instrumental bridge and a Simple Minds-style pomp finale. But “Push and Shove” is not nearly as aggressive as its title boasts, and the occasion demands some serious pushing and shoving. After a long period incommunicado and much time in the studio, “Push and Shove” should drop kick Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry into a “Where are they now?” file instead of merely announcing, “Me too!”