Wednesday, February 6, 2013


EDITOR'S NOTE: This first installment of WE DESERVE BETTER, a series about recent releases that haven't knocked our socks off, is courtesy of guest blogger Emily Popek. Thanks, E!

I’m going to be totally honest here - I kind of like No Doubt. I was in denial about it for a long time, pretending like I actually hated them. Their breakout single, “Just a Girl,” was pretty damned annoying, and don’t even get me started on “Spiderwebs.”

But somewhere along the line, they wormed their way into my consciousness. I grudgingly enjoyed Gwen Stifani’s vocals on the Dr. Dre-produced Eve single “Let Me Blow Your Mind.” And when 2001’s Rock Steady came out, I just plain liked it. With its playful, dancehall-inspired beats, it was fun, catchy and just different enough from the rest of the pop landscape that it actually seemed creative.

For 2012’s Push and Shove, the one-time ska band is sticking with the formulas that have brought it such success up until now: dancehall- and ska-tinged pop tunes; harder-driving “rock” songs tinged with electro; and the occasional ballad that allows Stefani to swan around in a music video looking like a starlet.

But there’s a problem...

...and its name is Santigold. In the intervening 10 years between Rock Steady and Push and Shove, she moved in and started doing what No Doubt does, only better and fresher and newer.

Push and Shove opens with the track “Settle Down,” which is so Santigold-like at the outset that the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking it is her - right up until Gwen Stefani says she’s “hella positive” about something or other, and breaks into a whiny chorus reminding us that, as Madonna and Paula Abdul proved, you don’t need range to be a pop star.

“Looking Hot” is like a repackage of Rock Steady’s “Hella Good,” without the catchy hook. And it’s downhill from there.

In a way, it’s not really fair. No Doubt were technically there first, signing to Interscope when Santigold was still 10 years away from starting her music career. But when her eponymous album came out in 2008, Santi managed to make blending ska, 80s pop and dance music sound totally original, as though No Doubt had never existed.

If there is a standout track here, it’s “Settle Down,” and that’s only because it sounds so different from the rest of the bland pop offerings dished up on Push and Shove. Overall, this is an album without a reason to exist - and one that fails to stand up, not only to the competition, but to the band’s own back catalogue.

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