No Doubt See Ted Nugent in an Airport and Don’t Ask Him to Produce Anything
Rock Steady. Hey, that’s a cool-sounding term, man. Are you thinking of Sly & Robbie, Prince Jammy, King Tubby, or some other “-y” moniker’d grass-roots dub reggae producer? Yeah, you down, dog. But hold up. It’s also an anonymously cool sounding moniker for No Doubt’s new studio record, their first since 2000’s Return of Saturn, and their first since frontwoman Gwen Stefani’s meteoric rise to “I’m Helping You” fame, which came only after the backlash to her band’s Tragic Kingdom record of 1995, a backlash that pigeonholed the Orange County-based group as one of those Bunch Of Guys Backing Up A Babe bands. (Shit, they even chronicled the hype in their video for “Don’t Speak.” So don’t blame me.) Since her scene-stealing turns as sidewoman for Moby (“South Side”), and Eve (“Let Me Blow Ya Mind”), Stefani has grown beyond her previous stature as simply the platinum-blonde vocalist of No Doubt. She has become a spokeswoman of curiously glittery bras, the defiantly non-hot, yet oddly hot vocalist that is now somehow walking point for the 80s/New Wave/Neon/Rayon revival that is allegedly on its way to our collective pop consciousness, just like furry tooks for women and those killer bees that seem to amass on the Mexican border during every sweeps week. How does America’s Katrina & The Waves bank on their girl’s florescent exposure? Well, hiring a bunch of Justice League producers and releasing a genuinely solid dance-pop record (in the middle of winter, mind you) isn’t a bad idea.
And that’s just what No Doubt has done with Rock Steady, an album that features the tweaking of Nelee Hooper, William Orbit, and perhaps most importantly (and flatteringly) for the group, reggae gurus Sly & Robbie. The presence of the classic reggae rhythm & bass duo most likely influences the set’s title, as the Riddim Twins’ appearances with and influences on basically every seminal reggae/ragga artist of the last 35 years is beyond self-evident. No Doubt’s island influences have never been a secret. But having the loot to hook up production from your heroes? That’s something that your average Cali third wave ska group can’t muster. Sly & Robbie’s dub-electronica mojo is evident on “Hey Baby,” a song that’s a tailor-made single for the Clear Channel “KISS-FM” set, but taken to a psycho, herky-jerky level, with galactic feedback and a great organ break backing up Stefani’s vocal hook. It’s like dub plate Pink blown up for the clubs, but without that white cheerleaders from Bring It On, “we’re fooling you with half-assed, allegedly adventurous beats” shtick that defines the self-proclaimed 2-Step Garage beats of N*Sync and Britney Spear’s recent yawns. The comparison is valid: Ever since Tragic Kingdom’s explosion, and especially since Stefani’s most recent and very glammy publicity, No Doubt is fully moving within the Pop market. The genius is that they’ve released a solid record into a market inundated with shit-stained drek resembling Pat Boone covering Little Richard. You know – all talk, no action. You better bring it? It’s already been brought.
The money train didn’t stop with Sly & Robbie. Think about hot production in the last, say, 5-6 years. What comes to mind? Nelee Hooper (Bjork). William Orbit (Madonna). Ric Ocasek (Weezer; Guided By Voices). Timbaland & Missy Elliot (Aaliyah; themselves). Check it: They all worked with No Doubt during the sessions for Rock Steady. After a brief intro, Hooper’s “Hella Good” kicks out a groove that’ll make ABC News’ John Cochran bust moves like he should have played Hammer in VH-1’s biopic. And you don’t stop. Orbit shows up to mix down a decent reset of Madonna’s “Music,” (which he didn’t produce anyway, but I guess Mirwais was busy eating at QuickBurger when Gwen rang his flat), and Ric Ocasek arrives to further solidify the nouveau-retro flair he added to the mediocre material on Weezer’s Green Album. “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Platinum Blondelife” sound like Teena Marie fronting The Cars, and that’s no joke. Best of all, Ocasek produced Bad Brains’ Rock For Light, the coolest album of 1983, and Tony Kanal knows it.
No Doubt are important in the grand marginal scheme of traffic-jam guilty pleasure radio lullaby rock. Sure, Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird” was pleasant enough the first 450 times. But jeez, release another single, would you? And now that Jewel’s dishwater new material has her thinking of spending a promotional year in the trunk of an Anchorage, AK Grand Turino, Stupid Radio needs something that the average dope can hum along listlessly to while waiting in line at McDonald’s. And if that brain-evacuating slush happens to feature Sly & Robbie cutting up some primo instrumental juju, or Ric Ocasek moving in stereo, then super size it Pilar, because radio just got better for the next two and a half minutes.