No Doubt’s songs make me think of rich white girls shopping. Latter day songs such as “Hey Baby” and “Hella Good” seemed to be on constant rotation at the upscale King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania. No Doubt’s new album, Push and Shove — their first in 11 years — has the added offense of bearing the reminder of Gwen Stefani’s solo career, a hugely successful move which made any further No Doubt releases seem unnecessary, unless the goal was to reconstitute ska into an even more morbid form than on previous outings. Push and Shove mostly dispenses with that and continues to remind us that Stefani has become a major pop star instead. For credibility points, Diplo is thrown into the mix as producer, but has little luck in saving any songs that had potential.
The album’s greatest affront is that the lyrics are abysmally bad. True, not many people listen to pop music for explicatory purposes, but a good pop songwriter can still find interesting ways to express love or sadness, or can state things in a way that cuts to the heart in its simplicity. The lyrics on Push and Shove do none of those things; on top of that, they include such wretched lines as “Just when you think it’s over/we be on another level like we’re doing yoga.” Even worse is the casual hood-speak. Hearing Stefani, an avid cultural appropriator (remember the mute Japanese slave girls who featured largely into her first solo release?), boast about hustling is eyebrow-raising in a bad way. Her mention of “robbin’ the hood” on “Easy” could be a reference to fellow California ska band Sublime, but it’s still not an authentic thing to hear coming from a millionaire’s mouth. True, the band’s leader often resorts to slang in her lyrics, but by this point it just feels tired.
Stefani is truly best at writing what she knows. The best song on the album is “Looking Hot”, a paparazzi-baiting semi-rocker with a chorus suited for cardio class. Although Lady Gaga has a better handle on songs about being famous, “Looking Hot” at least creates a diversion from the conventional relationship fodder of most No Doubt tunes. That the song is both the second single and the second song on the album — and that it is preceded by first single “Settle Down” — is pretty indicative of Push and Shove being a very top heavy release. At least one critic has said that “Settle Down” has a leg up on anything fellow Diplo collaborator Santigold has ever done. Seeing as guest star Busy Signal owns the title track’s brightest moments, it feels likely that “Settle Down” hardly would have suffered had Santi White come in to throw down on the song.
After “One More Summer” — which has a gigantic chorus perfectly suited for Wet Seal’s speakers — and the inconsistent but decent title song, the album becomes so filler-centric that even the tracks’ titles (“Gravity”, “Undercover”, “Undone”, “Sparkle”) are interchangeable. “Undone”, Push and Shove’s primary ballad, at least offers a change of tempo, but the song itself is a total bore. The album closes on “Dreaming the Same Dream”, a song that sounds eerily similar to Stefani solo hit “Cool”. This is a puzzling point on which to end, as it nails home the question of why exactly No Doubt are at it again when Stefani did most everything on Push and Shove and (admittedly) did it better during her solo stint.
Avid No Doubt fans — apart from those who stopped at Tragic Kingdom — may not care and buy the release anyway. If that happens, Stefani and crew will hopefully be rich enough to stop caring about the cool kids and cease all the posturing. If the band wises up that much, maybe they’ll write songs exclusively for shopping malls on the next go ’round.