After years of being in [a]No Doubt[/a], the last five spent enjoying cred-free superstardom, 2001 saw frontwoman and band face Gwen Stefani indulging in a little reinvention. Nothing fundamental, just a couple of unexpected collaborations and a 50s-sex-siren-gone-hip-hop new look. Her stadium-pop reworking of [a]Modjo[/a]
‘s ‘Southside’ passed unnoticed this side of the pond, but her duet with [a]Eve[/a] on the great ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind’ allowed us subtly to adjust our perceptions. Perhaps there was more to Gwen than the slightly dull pop moppet who’d managed to surf to stardom on a scummy ska-punk wave. Perhaps she could be modern. Relevant. Even fun.
Gwen obviously thought the same, since ‘Rock Steady’ strives hard to incorporate all those attributes. Though collaborations with [a]Timbaland[/a] and [a]Dr. Dre[/a] were left off because they “didn’t fit” (a weird reason when you consider the enormous waterfront of styles the final album does cover), cool-friends-for-hire like The Neptunes, Nellee Hooper and William Orbit make sure the party goes with an immaculately produced bang. And about half of ‘Rock Steady’ is just great, a career salvage job to compare with [a]Madonna[/a]
‘s ‘Ray Of Light’. The snarling ‘Hella Good’ sounds like a threes-up between [a]Britney Spears[/a], Duran Duran and Afrika Bambaataa while ‘Making Out’ features Orbit doing the ‘Light’ thing over the riff from the [a]No Doubt[/a]
‘ ‘Tragedy’. And if you can stomach white reggae, there are at least three rather lovely examples here, from the bumping single ‘Hey Baby’ to the cooing title track. (Ska punk, you’ll probably be pleased to here, is conspicuous by its absence.)
Things get rather stickier when [a]No Doubt[/a]
revert to the empty-headed guitar pop of yore, presumably in an attempt to placate dance-hating previous constituents. This only happens a couple of times, but it’s enough to spoil the second half of the album, which finally gives up the ghost when [a]No Doubt[/a]
pops up to administer the last rights to the dreadfully weak penultimate track ‘Waiting Room’. And it’s a dodgy collaboration like this one that finally openly begs the question nagging at the back of your mind throughout – that of the album’s integrity. Are [a]No Doubt[/a]
just throwing any old fashionable thing at the wall and seeing what sticks? Or are they innovators, bringing the come-one-come-all approach of hip-hop production to rock? And what do they rest of the band do, anyway?
The answers are perhaps, maybe and, well, God knows. One things for sure: such is the rich potential for hit singles on ‘Rock Steady’, [a]No Doubt[/a]
will live to fight another day and beyond. Will Gwen’s reinvention extend to ditching him out of [a][/a]? Watch this space.