No Doubt: Return Of Saturn

No Doubt: Return Of Saturn

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No Doubt

Album: Return Of Saturn

Of all the best-selling bands that should have struck while the iron was hot, No Doubt would seem among the least likely to succeed after waiting five years between records. After all, 1995's phenomenally popular Tragic Kingdom was at the forefront of the now-decimated mid-'90s ska-pop movement, and its overriding tone of insecure vulnerability couldn't be more at odds with the blustery bile and prefabricated, insincere studio pop songs that dominate today's charts. Yet with a marketing army, an assortment of magazine covers, a surprisingly obsequious critical consensus, and a VH1 Behind The Music special working to thrust No Doubt back into the spotlight, Return Of Saturn is turning out to be nowhere near the DOA dud many had long anticipated. But it's also a dispiriting collection of some of the least empowering music ever recorded: Whether yearning to become a housewife and cook her man dinner ("Simple Kind Of Life") or, on "Marry Me," fantasizing about having "my name changed to Mrs.," singer Gwen Stefani fills virtually every moment of Return Of Saturn with chirpy but joyless, moony-eyed odes to powerlessness that make "Don't Speak" sound like a defiant roar. On "Ex-Girlfriend," she's the dumpee who should have known better. On "Six Feet Under," she's helpless against the ravages of age. On "Staring Problem," she can't stop gawking enviously at prettier women. The music itself, mostly stripped of Tragic Kingdom's skittish ska sounds—remember when No Doubt was mentioned in the same breath as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones?—sticks mostly to catchy, usually edge-free pop, and that's more or less a mitigating factor. Usually, albums that so explicitly wallow in weakness, insecurity, and obsessive dependence don't wed their lyrics to such chipper music, and it certainly doesn't hurt to try.

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