No Doubt's first album in 11 years has arrived a bit early. Here, five SPIN editors give their hasty and completely impulsive opinions...
Gwen Stefani is the icon, but listening to Push and Shove makes me bow before bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young. I don't want to be one of those knobs who's like, "Actually, the rhythm section is the thing that makes this music work," but...I'm gonna be that knob. On the new album, those two make the band sound natural on everything from sleek arena rock ("Easy"), to rockish dancehall ("Settle Down"), to hard dance-pop ("Looking Hot"), to the modern-country power-balladry of "Undone," which has a faint vintage Taylor Swift-y vibe. (Yes, we can now speak of a vintage Taylor Swift era.) No matter what style, Kanal and Young make sure No Doubt never comes off like they're donning different styles in a desperate attempt to step to a hit. Every song breathes. Every song moves. And in terms of pure, Gwen-supplied pipsqueak-goddess hooks, this album sounds full of singles. I couldn't really point to anything on Push and Shove as being so complicated or emotionally fraught that it explains why it took 11(!) years for the band to come up with the follow-up to Rock Steady and that's a relief. Phooey on tortured comebacks. Huzzah for pop instincts! And did I mention the rhythm section?
Early score: 8/10
Christopher R. Weingarten:
No Doubt absorb what's in the atmosphere — hell, if they didn't, those two platinum Gwen Stefani albums might have sounded like Fishbone or Moby or something. And swagger-jacking contemporary art-pop is way more on the ball than late-passing themselves to the Neptunes party in 2001 (and, yeah, "Settle Down" is a better Santigold song than most Santogold songs). The tracks that nail it ("Settle Down," "Sparkle") are cosmopolitan, gnarly, Gnarsly pop bliss, where guitars and drums actually sound sampled, some kind of modern magic that only the Roots crew can pull off. Unfortunately EDM is very 2012 too, and all the requisite Starshippery is like limp Metric at best and Spawn soundtrack at worst. By the time they start hitting the chords from "Don't You (Forget About Me)" in "Dreaming the Same Dream," you half expect Ryan Gosling to crash his car into a Calvin Harris set yelling just hoping that he can catch some of the zeitgeist on his bumper. Extra points off for "La la la living la vida loca / Speeding up like soca / Just when you think it's over / We be on another level like we're doing yoga," which rips off a Madonna song that charted worse than her "American Pie" cover.
Early score: 6/10
No Doubt do the minimum amount of pandering to fistpumping here, hiding the thump of EDM always in the background. Then again, Stefani's 2004 solo hit "What You Waiting For?" beat our current "hook only" era nine years before this stuff even existed. The album's biggest dance influence turns out to be the best dance influence: New Order. For real, the Chromatics should be jealous of the longing-filled Bernard Sumner-esque guitars on "One More Summer." Hell, New Order themselves should be a little jealous. Push and Shove gives me the same this-is-pretty-great-but-no-one-will-care-and-that's-a-bummer feeling that Nina Sky's Nicole & Natalie gave me a couple months ago. Here's some good maybe great, pop that shows some restraint and a lot of personality, so it might as well be dead in the water?
"Looking Hot" is the single. Not actual single, "Settle Down." Obscenely catchy, "Looking Hot" finds time to indulge a Linkin Park echo-laden breakdown, and a country-fried K-Pop dub reggae bridge. Maximalism, people! Not going to lie, moments of Push and Shove sound desperate like Madonna's last one, especially when Gwen gets her rap on, but Stefani — the bridge between early '90s inspirational riot grrrl attitude and complacent late '90s teen pop; master appropriator long before M.I.A. or Nicki — deserves a pass because she's awesome. All the studio tricks here are loads of fun — diet caffeine free dubstep wub on "Easy," impossibly clean acoustic guitar on "Undone"— but they're also thrown in there to keep the thing moving.
Early score: 8/10
Yep. Got that fake patois. Gwen Stefani did a fake patois. Tony Kanal did a fake patois. The other two guys did a fake patois. Pronounce can't like Kant in a fake patois. Chase that Katy Perry money with your fake patois. No obvious single inna fake patois. Oughta join Sugarland with that fake patois. "D'ya think I'm lookin' hot?" inna fake patois. Too many ballads sink a fake patois. Every song is too long despite fake patois. "One More Summer" is nice, though — fake patois. What you know about overproduction? What you know about overproduction? Haven't sounded like a band since Return of Saturn. Haven't sounded like a band since Return of Saturn. YEH NAH GWAN OUTSELL MUMFORD AND SONS WIT DE FAKE PATOIS.
Early score: 5/10
No Doubt's last album came out so long ago, nobody could tweet about its premature leak because there was no Twitter (heck, there was no Friendster in 2001). But the band has done something wise to prevent a yuk-a-thon about the bloated length of their hiatus: made an album that sounds naturally, not desperately, as 2012 as anything else worthwhile that's arrived this year. Though the record is nearly one-quarter placid pop songs — they're stacked in the center of the album: "Easy," "Gravity," "Undercover" — it's clear Gwen Stefani and Co. have a real affection for the (sometimes problematic) globe-trotting on which they built their name. The set opens on Santigold-y rave-up "Settle Down" and is named after the jittery Diplo collaboration where Stefani goes head-to-head with Major Lazer and Busy Signal. (Unsurprisingly, they win, but it's a super-fun listen.)
The quartet has had plenty of time to buff Push and Shove to perfection and its 11 tracks sound meticulously crisp, though No Doubt has always been a top-notch studio band. (The horns on this LP sound particularly fantastic.) There's an '80s-esque pop song that would have fit perfectly on Katy Perry's Teenage Dream ("One More Summer"), a ballad that was destined for Carrie Underwood ("Undone"), and a gauzy synth tune that's an update on Stefani solo track "Cool" ("Dreaming the Same Dream"). But more importantly, there are no major missteps. After two albums of dancey pop, Stefani has no troubles trading in her Harajuku Girls for her Cali boys. Even better, she doesn't sound bored. "Do you think I'm looking hot?" she sneers on the record's most worthwhile listen, the paparazzi kiss-off "Looking Hot." Um, yes?
Early score: 7/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 6.8