Wednesday, January 30, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1223: No Doubt

I’ve been trying to take on new experiences in 2019. Today I received my first ever professional straight-razor shave from a barber. Many thanks to Mo at Atmosphaire for the experience, and to Sheila for the gift card that encouraged me to go!

Disc 1223 is… Rock Steady
Artist: No Doubt

Year of Release: 2001

What’s up with the Cover? A bunch of annoying writing. This looks like what happens to a wall downtown when you don’t paint a nice mural on it: a bunch of idiots tag it. Here No Doubt plays the part of “bunch of idiots” and tags the cover of their album.

How I Came To Know It: This album came out before Youtube so I discovered it through a couple of videos back when Much Music actually played them. I remember one where the band is riding around on Seadoos and another one where Gwen Stefani is rolling around on a bed in her underwear. The second one left an impression.

How It Stacks Up:  This is the only No Doubt album we own, so it can’t stack up.

Ratings:  2 stars

Having just reviewed Mother Mother I was in a pop-friendly mood, but “Rock Steady” was not as good as I remember it all those years ago when I bought it.

This is still a solid record, with some solid hooks and a lot of head bobbing beats but I felt like was being manipulated by all the bells and whistles, tricking me with clever production into liking songs that weren’t as good as they should have been.

I tend to delay discussion about an album’s production until later in a review, but on “Rock Steady” it plays too central a role for that. The songs have their basis in traditional rock and roll arrangements – guitar, bass, drum and vocals – but they are also replete with beeps, chirps and distortion effects. All this window dressing is done very well and given the style of music I don’t think the album would sound right without it but it gives the impression of a kid pulling on your sleeve to get your attention; a bit too insistent.

There also isn’t a lot of depth to the message. A lot of these songs make you want to party, but you’re not sure why. When I listen to music I’m like a difficult actor in rehearsal; I need to know my motivation in the scene. This is true even when I’m just enjoying a dance tune.

I forgive a lot of this because the songs are so much fun, even if they are often empty calories. “Rock Steady” is a party record and that’s OK, and whatever tricks are being employed you can’t deny the songs are catchy.

When they do strip it down and you can see the bones of the songs, they stand up pretty well. The best example of this is “Underneath It All” which mixes a reggae back-beat with a sugar-pop vocal delivery from Gwen that makes you think she’s about to whisper “I wanna be your girlfriend.” Of course, she never does. This is probably just as well, as my heart now belongs to St. Vincent. Sorry, Gwen. You’ll always be my Hollaback girl, but I needed to move on. But I digress…

Stefani’s vocals aren’t powerhouse but she’s always been amazing at sitting down in the pocket and singing with gusto. She is a born performer and it is easy to see why she has become a huge star: she is steeped in presence.

Sometimes the songs don’t really go anywhere, such as the meandering “Start the Fire” which is mostly a lot of repeating of “baby, get the lighter/we’re gonna start the fire.” I didn’t mind though, because it has a nice hip-swirl beat and makes you feel like you’ve spent the day at a beach party.

After 11 songs of relaxing reggae-pop fusion you are in a pretty good headspace, but unfortunately the album doesn’t end there. The last two songs “Waiting Room” and “Rock Steady” are annoying and self-indulgent techno-beats that were annoying in the day and have not aged well. While the whole album has a lot of production, these two songs take it to a whole new level, to the point where there is no melodic underpinning to build from or if there is, it is buried too deep to matter.

With the exception of these two tracks, though, I have a soft spot for this record, which is a fun and carefree experience. If you had to hear the music coming from a ghetto blaster one campfire over at the beach, you could do worse than “Rock Steady.” For this reason it stays in the collection although I’m more likely to pull a single off for a dance mix than I am to give the album a full listen.

Best tracks: Hella Good, Underneath It All


Gord Webster said...

You don't go to No Doubt looking for depth. They're on my guilty pleasure music list. :-) That said, Hella Good is definitely the stand out from this album. But it really needs volume to sound it's best.

Gord Webster said...

They also do a killer cover of It's My Life by Talk Talk, but it really only sounds good with a lot of volume and bass