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Non-Prog CD Reviews

No Doubt

Rock Steady

Review by Latasha Moree

No Doubt sheds previous perfection in favor of carefree fun. Rock Steady is an example of being free enough to be different and courageously simplistic. The album is a salad bowl of musical styles - reggae, techno electronica, rock and r & b are blended together. The resulting dish is the kind of pop this reviewer likes best, creatively original. Prince, Ric Orasek, Nellie Hooper, Sly &Robbie and William Orbit all serve as producers, each lending a trademark style to color the album with variety. Gwen Stefani adds lyrics that are often focused on relationship examination in a way that always seems to represent the female population well. This time around she's talking about a variety of subjects (a relationship that's in a good place (Hella Good), female jealousy (In my Head), and realistic love (Underneath it All)). Rock Steady definitely takes a turn toward the shades of light-hearted happiness, particularly when compared to its predecessor Return to Saturn. No Doubt fans who thrive on ska driven songs and their alternative rock leanings might be disappointed. Don't cry too long, though. No Doubt isn't about loyalty to a musical style but rather random exploration that triads between weird, talent and variety. Yes, they are courting a pop friendly mainstream audience. And yes, there is a more obvious sex appeal in Gwen's voice, but its all healthy and illustrates where this band is going, adulthood. I must say I like the way the tracks fit on this playbill. All these songs manage to have both similarities and differences. They have many layers going beyond the beat. All of them share a commonality to keep the theme danceable and up-tempoed. Rock Steady does just what is advertised, keeps your mood light, but the beat heavy and takes risks in between that pay off hella good.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Intro
Different tones of Gwen's voice, harmonized, form the basis of the cut and establish the theme of album.
Hella Good
This one is based in synthesized, edgy music that merges a hard rock line and strong beat. It's definitely different for No Doubt, but different can be good.
Hey Baby
This one is the first single from the disc. It couples a Jamaican influence with techno. The track captures the Jamaican dance hall beat incredibly well and describes being the lone female member in a testosterone driven band.
Making Out
William Orbit shows that his name is befitting his futuristic electronica style that is moderately embodied in this track. It has a sense of anticipation in the theme and a message of dance in the beat.
Underneath It All
Tasting more of a Jamaican dancehall style, this one also manages to get to the essence of the band's ska roots. It is based on a melodic groove that's slower than the other tracks and features Lady Shaw providing a Jamaican rap which pushes this tune into hip-hop/ r & b territory.
Don't Let Me Down
This song has Ric Case's fingerprints all over it. It's an eighties influenced bit of nostalgia that lends definite variety to the disk. It keeps you interested and is memorable.
Start The Fire
"Start The Fire" is a track that is submerged in the reggae influence right up to the vocals. This is the most pure Jamaican representation as those elements truly flood the song.
Running
The only piece on show here that can be labeled as "slow", this has a slightly serious lyrical tone of relationship maintenance. Sounds of synthesized xylophone keeps it in a higher register and in the sweet pop zone.
In My Head
This one is a cut in which a bounciness pops like corn throughout. The lyrical focus is on talking female jealousy.
Platinum Blonde Life
The vocals here are backed with a true alternative rock guitar that will have the older fans of No Doubt thinking, "that's more like it."
Waiting Room
This cut can be summed up in one word - "Prince". He not only sings back up vocals, but also flavors the entire track through his production and musical flair. This is rich music that has jazz harmonizing, tribal drumbeats and driving keyboards. The result is a song that races during the chorus and slithers everywhere else. Gwen pushes a higher vocal range and there is a quality there that can only be described as "sexy."
Rock Steady
This piece is connected through it's themes to the album opener, the two serving as bookends. It is based on a beat that does just as the title suggests.
 
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