No Doubt - Rock Steady
Record Label: Interscope
Release Date: December 11, 2001
Nine years after No Doubt’s criminally overlooked debut album, their fourth effort, entitled Rock Steady, caught us by surprise with a more cultured sound than the previous two chart toppers. In an attempt to capture a Jamaican dancehall sound, songwriter Gwen Stefani demonstrates just how shallow a conventionally soulful sound can possibly be.
Collaborations with various reggae, hip-hop, and R&B artists anticipated a tremendously diverse album. Instead, what did we get? Not much more than another generic party album. The lack of enthusiasm in this album is obvious from the very first track. “A real love survives a rock steady vibe,” is the only line in the extremely short (and only a little sweet) opening number. Now, we know No Doubt has never had a great deal of depth in their lyrics, but they at least made up for it with energy and originality in earlier albums. While certain tracks on the album are upbeat ("Hella Good," "Hey Baby," and the title track), there is an obvious shortfall of spirit.
While the ball was dropped in the lyrics court, there’s no doubt about it that this album was, as anticipated, musically diverse. Comprised of mostly synth-pop ballads, the music on the tracks mainly came from electronic keyboard effects. The album’s title track seems to capture the essence of the whole album as a down-tempo dub song with innocent yet seductive vocals. “Running” comes close to replicating the sound we know and love from Tragic Kingdom while still adapting to the new concept behind Rock Steady.
Unfortunately with No Doubt, we are left with an excess of “maybes” and “what ifs.” “Maybe if they released their self-titled debut a few years later, they would have been more successful,” for example. Or better yet, “If Rock Steady wasn’t such a disappointment to everyone, Gwen Stefani probably would have rethought that solo career.”