In the mid-90′s, No Doubt was an omnipresent force. Their album “Tragic Kingdom” had blown up. The first two singles “Just a Girl” and “Spiderwebs” enjoyed plenty of airplay on alternative rock radio and Muchmusic. But it was “Don’t Speak” that pushed them to super-stardom. The track went to #1 in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. It was the most-played song on American radio for 16 weeks. They became *that band*. The one that your little sister obsesses about. The one that the local Blockbuster video has tons of posters for sale for even though they’re a video store and should be selling movie posters.
It wouldn’t be until five years after “Tragic Kingdom” that they’d follow it up. Not that the band was absent. They toured the hell out of that record and it spawned SEVEN singles. The had a track called “New” on the soundtrack to the movie “Go”. Gwen Stefani provided vocals on the single edit of Moby’s “South Side” and made an appearance in the video.
Like I said, they were omnipresent.
When they released their follow-up album “Return of Saturn”, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations that had been set. I mean, how could it? (alas, it only went platinum once compared to “Tragic Kingdom” going 10x platinum in the U.S. alone) It’s quite a thing when you sell over a million records and its considered a failure.
But whatevs, people are fickle. I found it at Sonic Boom for $3 (thanks guys) and figured I’d see how it holds up after 14 years. The first single “Ex-Girlfriend” is actually pretty damn good. It makes use of an eerie acoustic guitar line in the intro and leading up to each chorus combined with a strong sense of dread in the subject matter (“I kind of always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend”) It manages to mesh punk choruses with pseudo-hip-hop verses hinting at the cross-over material they’d eventually adopt in their next album.
The other singles, the bland “Simple Kind of Life” and the stompy/swingey “Bathwater” I didn’t enjoy as much. Fortunately the excellent track “New” from the “Go” soundtrack was also included on the record.
The rest of the record is also a mixed bag. There’s a couple fast paced tracks in “Staring Problem” and “Six Feet Under”, some mid-tempo ska and reggae in “Marry Me” and a couple angsty rockers in “Artificial Sweetener” and “Comforting Lie”. But none of it really stands out.
There’s a restlessness in “Return of Saturn” and it comes out in the lack of cohesiveness between songs. They’d eventually experiment with more club-friendly fare on their next album “Rocksteady” before going on hiatus and taking an extended break from songwriting.