It’s been 11 years since we last heard an album-length production from No Doubt. In that time period, lead singer Gwen Stefani branched out-musically, as a fashionista, maternally-almost ensuring that an 11 year absence was not going to feel like an 11 year absence due to her ubiquity. The fact that it seems as though No Doubt hasn’t been gone for terribly long might also be due to the fact that they have been touring for a couple of years (a wise move to build up chops after the lengthy delay following Rock Steady.)

Upon listening to Push & Shove, the band’s fifth album, it’s almost as time has frozen still. Not only has age appeared to evade the quartet from a visual standpoint (seriously…they look GOOD,) time also appears to have bypassed No Doubt musically. Push & Shove sounds like the logical next step from Rock Steady, their magnum opus (IMO) and the album that perfectly summarized their synthesis of pop, new wave and reggae. It also-somewhat amazingly-sounds fairly right in line with the music scene circa 2012. Has time stood still? Were No Doubt somehow ahead of their time? Does it even matter with an album this solid?

Gwen, Tony, Tom & Adrian are still blending their pop with bits of rock, dashes of new wave and lots of reggae. It results in a satisfying stew held together by the non-Gwen members’ musical chemistry and solid production by Mark “Spike” Stent. Gwen’s still a bit neurotic (you only need to listen to the anthemic “One More Summer” once to realize that it’s this album’s designated Tony-Broke-My-Heart song-although the Twittersphere tells me otherwise,) and even the modern dance beats that appear intermittently on songs like “Looking Hot” (which cleverly references their early hit “Spiderwebs”) and “Heaven” (a Depeche Mode-ish dance track which is retro and modern at the same time) fit right in. The Major Lazer-featuring title track blends just about every sound they’ve ever tampered with-going from pogo-friendly ska to breakneck reggae (courtesy of Busy Signal,) into jiggly dance-pop. It’s BBD’s “hip-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it”-only with about 10 more subgenres shoehorned in. The band even puts a little twang in their sound with “Undone.” A little more pedal steel and a lot more whine and it could be Taylor Swift’s next #1 hit.

I should add that even with Gwen’s neuroses still firmly in place, she sounds fairly happy and content with her life. The dreamy pop of “Dreaming The Same Dream,” one of Push & Shove‘s most solid tracks (and a song that should be huge if released as a single) suggests as much.

One thing that I realized upon listening to Push & Shove was that Gwen appears to have learned much from Madonna in terms of songwriting-many of these songs could’ve easily been made by the Material Girl at some point before she started becoming a parody of herself at the outset of the 21st century. Of course, Madge hasn’t had the benefit of three other bandmates to reign in some of her more ill-advised impulses. Let’s hope that No Doubt doesn’t spend another 11 years in between albums, although if Push & Shove is any indication, that next album will still find Gwen and co. right in the pocket.

Grade: A-

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