(Interscope Records, 0694904412)
The 1995 release Tragic Kingdom took three years to top the charts, and upon achieving multi-platinum status No Doubt embraced their hard-earned fame. They didn’t resent the public for ignoring their punk/ska roots, and they didn’t force ten years worth of old material down young teeny-boppers throats when they flocked to their concerts. Consciously, the band opted to milk their fifteen minutes for as much as they could, and now five years later their conversion to top-forty pop is complete with the release of Return of Saturn.
Lead singer Gwen Stefani is a pop icon waiting to happen, and she very easily could have relied exclusively on MTV to create a strong, commercially viable image. However, to her credit Stefani has decided to develop her image the old-fashioned way: by actually being an interesting person. The songs on Return of Saturn are thoughtful and revealing, a vast improvement over previous efforts. They focus on the challenge of being both a persona and a person–why this is so fascinating to those of us who will never be famous I have no idea…but it is, isn’t it? Perhaps some us spend so much time in our dreamworld where we spend gobs of money on all our friends and rub those same riches in the face of all our enemies, that we actually think we can relate to these problems.
Stefani wants us to know that her “conventional” side has a powerful influence over who she is. She admits to anxiety, insecurity, obsession, and most importantly, normalcy. She’ll make you like her by the end of this album, even if you find her vocal mannerisms somewhat irritating. Producer Glen Ballard of Alanis Morisette fame finds plenty of hooks, and the result is fourteen satisfying pop songs. At a recent concert in Toronto the band was apparently having great difficulty figuring out how to play the new material live, which should give you an idea of how heavily ‘produced’ Return of Saturn is. The music is sporadically clever, but never boring. Unexpected synth sounds fill the aural landscape on standout tracks such as “Staring Problem” and the positively Go-Go’s “Six Feet Under.” This is Fleetwood Mac for kids, and destined to be one of the best-selling albums of the year.
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