Music

No Doubt: Rock Steady

Eden Miller

No Doubt

Rock Steady

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2001-12-11
Amazon
iTunes

Gwen Stefani is the perfect girl. At once eternally self-confident and vulnerable, playful and tough, Stefani brings all the confusing (and often paradoxical) characteristics of femininity into one package. The girls love her, the boys love her. Rock fans love her, pop fans love her. Her recent collaborations with Moby and Eve just further prove Stefani's wide-ranging appeal. Everyone loves Gwen, and everyone should. No Doubt is one of the few bands everyone can love without any sort of effort or even any guilt.

As the follow-up to 2000's Return of Saturn, which took some unfair critical hits for being about Stefani's unabashed desire for domesticity (perhaps the world just wasn't ready for rock songs about marriage and family), Rock Steady seems to be something of a concession to their earlier days of straightforward party-rock. Rock Steady is just solid fun -- no angsty ballads about marriage here -- and that's the main component of the album's appeal. While it doesn't completely abandon introspection, gone is the longing and wistfulness. No matter your thoughts on Return of Saturn, the connection you'll make with Rock Steady is instantaneous.

But unlike Return of Saturn's tight-knit cohesiveness that almost bordered on "concept" (thanks to the dead-on production of Glen Ballard), the diverse half-dozen producers picked for Rock Steady, including Nellee Hooper, Ric Ocasek, William Orbit, and Prince, do bring their respective styles of Rock Steady and, consequently, the album jumps around quite a bit. From the hip-hop snarls of "Detective" to the blatant new wave beats of "Don't Let Me Down", there is little to unite these songs stylistically. While the effect isn't jarring, the songs definitely seem like ones that were pieced together from different recording sessions rather than ones that were conceived in unison.

It is to No Doubt's credit, though, that they manage to keep the album together with little more than their collective personalities. All these songs sound like No Doubt just because you can automatically tell that they are. Stefani may be continually at the forefront of the band, but the group has stayed together because they all have such an instinct for each other. Stefani's vocals are at turns seductive and innocent depending on the song (or moment in the song), while Tony Kanal's bass growls and throbs along with Adrian Young's fierce drum work and Tom Dumont's understated guitars. No Doubt sounds like a band, and this gives Rock Steady an unexpected and much needed strength.

While the electronic loops of "Making Out" (William Orbit's track), and even the guest contributions of Bounty Killer and Lady Saw, show the obvious influence of Stefani's solo collaborations, No Doubt's re-embrace of the reggae/ska sound is all personal. The band's desire to reconnect with its musical beginnings shows how far it has come since its days as a local Southern California band. Still, No Doubt still doesn't want to be pegged as any one thing on Rock Steady, and the band's willingness to explore different genres and styles shows a surprising savvy. Its fan base is already there, and the band moves its sound forward just enough to not be alienating.

Although some of the songs here tend to fall flat, such as "Running", a music-box ballad that would be more worthy of some Britney clone, or the sloppy dancehall sound of "Underneath It All", No Doubt isn't afraid of working with new ideas, even if they happen to be the wrong ones. "Waiting Room", the collaboration with Prince, is perhaps the unanticipated standout of Rock Steady because of this. With its sultry beats and Stefani's downright adorable Prince impression, it is the song that breaks away from the traditional No Doubt sound the most while still maintaining what makes No Doubt such a dynamic band. It is eager to take chances if they will in any way aid its identity as a band.

Stefani's lyrics have an immediacy to them that sometimes seem like just a means to an end for the music. When she sings "I tried to think about rainbows when it gets bad" on "In My Head", it is a bit hard not to cringe, but there's a spontaneity to the lyrics here that is hard to ignore. On "Don't Let Me Down", when she sings "'Cause now you're all mine/ Don't you forget it/ Don't let me down", there's an intensity in her voice that borders between joy and viciousness. There is still something very open and honest about Rock Steady. Even if Stefani isn't pouring out her heart about wanting to settle down, the emotions are still there.

Rock Steady may never fully find a unifying voice as an album, but that's simple to overlook. Refusing to settle into one definition, No Doubt is vibrant and full of life here, even if the heights it reaches for aren't always achieved. Gwen Stefani's sparkling charisma cannot be disregarded, and no matter what else, when she sings on the opening track "You got me felling hella good", it's pretty easy just to nod in agreement and keep on listening.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.