If anyone can turn heartbreak and ska trombones into pop currency, it's the band minting it tonight...

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London W1 Hanover Grand


London W1 Hanover Grand

No who? You might justifiably ask. It’s been a full year-and-a-half since the SoCal hi-NRG ska-pop tag-team last stepped on a stage, and a massive four since their big weepie, ‘Don’t Speak’, hastened them fame-wards on a magic carpet of damp hankies. All around the pop playground, things have changed. Heady [a]Green Day[/a] afternoons have given way to the murky twilight of [a]Slipknot[/a]. Gimlet-eyed junior temptresses like Britney and Christina have taken up Gwen‘s girly slack. And No Doubt themselves have grown up and moved on.

Gwen Stefani‘s navel still winks from her toned midriff, but the figure bounding a little nervously around the small stage is a changed woman. If No Doubt were cartoonishly lovable before, Gwen‘s current pink-haired punk Pebbles look rivals Lene Aqua for sheer Day-Glo eye-terror. But it’s deeper down that the emphasis has shifted, if No Doubt‘s forthcoming album, ‘Return Of Saturn’, is any indicator.

Despite dusting off ‘Tragic Kingdom’-era pogo-inducers like the fab ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘Just A Girl’, No Doubt‘s task tonight is to road-test the more mature sounds from their sabbatical. Songs like the unsteady ‘New’, or ‘Magic’s In The Makeup’, an identity crisis in eye shadow and lip gloss, or ‘Marry Me’ – excruciating not for its lovely slow-burn dub, but its naked Catholic-girl heartbreak.

The last album, we all know, was about Gwen‘s break-up with cool bassist Tony Kanal. This one’s all about Gwen‘s break-up with Rock-God-(US version)-stroke-tabloid-shagger-(UK version) Gavin Rossdale of Bush, and it makes for grimmer listening. You almost wish there was more artifice to lyrics like, [I]”I was obsessed”[/I] (‘Simple Kind Of Life’) or the desolate plea of [I]”happy ever after”[/I] (‘Marry Me’), and not merely on aesthetic grounds. Ouch.

Two songs do leap out from the tune-hungry murk of the dirty laundry basket tonight. Ace new single ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ is as much fun as a break-up can possibly be, all skanking chorus and pouty raps, while ‘Bathwater’ is seriously dippy, a tromboned-up ode to bathing in your loved one’s tubful. No, really: it’s top.

And anyway, doesn’t it all have a happy ending? The lovebirds are apparently back together (Gavin’s here tonight), ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ looks set to be a hit, and pink tresses might well be the new bhindi. The omens are good. After all, if anyone can turn heartbreak and ska trombones into pop currency, it’s the band minting it tonight.