"Push and Shove"No Doubt can hardly be considered prolific; this is their sixth album in 20 years, 10 years since their last and best album “Rock Steady”.  In the decade since this album Gwen Stefani temporarily left her bandmates, had children and released 1 brilliant and hugely successful pop album as a solo artist,  “L.A.M.B”, followed by the far less cohesive “The Sweet Escape” in 2006 which betrayed itself by chasing r’n’b trends and guest spots. No one seemed to be sure what was to follow, which finally finds us here in 2012 with the Mark Stent-produced “Push and Shove”.

Settle Down” was the public’s first taste of  the bands new material and it tasted familiar and reassuring; pop ska with some ‘hey, hey, heys’, a Bollywood string opening and a spacy full minute and a half instrumental dub outro.  It also seemed to confirm that the band were prepared to experiment a little . Next up and the best track here by a long shot, is the exuberant Major Lazer-featuring and produced title track ‘Push and Shove’.  Stefani shares tongue-twister verses with dancehall rapper Busy Signal and the whole track with its slowed-down, big beat chorus and multi- part structure could have been an over-ambitious indulgent mess but is the only track that really has any authentic energy and demonstrates all that can be potentially fantastic about No Doubt. Both of these tracks were made available before the album was released, “Settle Down” as the first single accompanied by a full 6 minute video directed by old favourite Sophie Muller and “Push and Shove” as a teaser track.  Shame that these tracks were not indicative of what was actually remaining on the, at that point unheard, album.

Gwen Stefani has recently been conducting the usual round of interviews required when promoting an album from a hugely successful band who many thought may never record together again and she said an interesting thing. Whilst referring to her solo albums she commented they were never meant to be taken seriously, a weird comment to the millions who bought them and watched her tour them live. Even stranger is that one of the better tracks here, “Sparkle”, was originally recorded for Stefani’s second album but was never used and that the template for at least half of this album is exactly the electronic pop that defined her solo excursion, so is this also not serious? The ska/surf pop punk makes a very brief reappearance, a few trumpets here and there but the songs themselves are bland and fail to stick. “Gravity” is a nice electro pop track but is the complete spit of Stefani’s big solo hit “Cool” and “Undone” is a dreary acoustic ballad which never reaches its destination.  “Looking Hot” and “One More Summer” are shallow, slick non-starters and could be sung by either Pink or Katy Perry on a slow day.

It’s hard to understand how No Doubt managed to make such a sluggish, boring album; they have access to the best producers, songwriters and musicians but that’s failed to make a difference.  “Push and Shove” will probably do very well, though I doubt somehow it will sell like its predecessor. Incredibly significant changes have taken place in the music industry, good and bad, over the last decade and it looks like No Doubt are trying to play by the new rules when really they need to throw them aside and just do own their own thing.  A major disappointment.