Anyone who’s known me longer than an hour knows that No Doubt is my favorite band, one that was largely influential to my musical education. Through their alternative-ska hybrid, I explored punk, ska and reggae from the 60s, 70s, and 80s in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise at the age of 11. I talk a bit about that here, and 21 years later, still feel tremendously indebted to them for helping pave the way toward my now-adult relationship with music. They say that the music of your youth helps shape you, and I’ve found that to be resoundingly and immortally true.
Through No Doubt, I’ve found friends from all over the world, and this is beyond amazing–it’s what music should do. Connect people. But when a band member goes solo, it can really shake that band’s community to its core.
When Gwen Stefani first went solo with 2004’s Love Angel Music Baby, most of us wanted to support it – and hell – it was essentially a tribute to the dance music she grew up loving, from Depeche Mode to Cyndi Lauper, Prince to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. What she ended up with was a slick collection of pop tunes that sounded unlike any other record that year, not to mention one that included the smash hit she co-wrote with Pharrell, “Hollaback Girl.” The takeaway: It was inspired. It was fueled by creativity and artistry. It was pop, but it still felt like the artist we loved.
Babies, fashion lines, tours, and a singing reality TV show later…Gwen’s solo outings have transformed her into what most fear when a fave spins solo: she’s become more celebrity than artist. Her picture’s all over the magazines you’re forced to gawk at at the grocery store, and pathetic gossip sites are all over the trials and tribulations of Gwen, Gavin and her new boy-toy, Blake. (As if any of the drama is surprising – just listen to No Doubt’s Return of Saturn.)
Gwen’s popularity is and always has been rooted in the fact that we want to root for her. She’s cool and collected – one of the lucky ones plucked from obscurity who hit it big by wearing her heart on her sleeve during the Tragic Kingdom days. Through her modesty and lyricism (again, Return of Saturn), she was a heartbroken kitten who rebounded by building herself up even stronger. And she did it with style and grace, consistently reinventing herself stylistically and musically.
Despite multiple promises (“only one solo, I swore”), her third album dropped recently, playing right into the media’s circus show around her personal life. This is What the Truth Feels Like stands for the exact opposite of everything we loved Gwen for. That she was the girl who never wanted fame. That she was the one who wanted a “Simple Kind of Life.” That if she was an ice cream flavor, she’d be something radical, like Rockin’ Red Velvet Explosion or some shit like that. But nowadays, her persona–and her new album–have melted into a very soupy Vanilla.
That is what the truth feels like, Gwen.
After The Voice, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to support her. Years before No Doubt’s 2012 record came out, the false-start “comeback” that was Push and Shove, rumor had it that Gwen was the hold up, partly due to an unplanned second solo, The Sweet Escape. Due to this fragmentation in her music, fashion lines, and time, No Doubt lost its momentum; it had been nearly a decade since their rock solid Rock Steady album. The perception, perhaps unfair or untrue, was that her heart may no longer be into the band.
But Truth just feels wrong. It feels like the shallow attempts of an attention seeker. It panders to the media’s divorce-story narrative. While she’s always been an incredibly open artist, Truth feels more like an opportunity than a record of expression. You can feel the media campaign churning behind it. Her celebrity and tabloid-spun persona feel more substantial than the music itself. For as much as this was an album she “wrote” to “survive” and “express,” I couldn’t even bring myself to formally review it here on TLW. In fact, I stopped listening to it weeks ago.
I won’t lie – there are tracks on Truth that I quite like. “Where Would I Be” has a reggae-lite beat that is super fun to drink to. “Getting Warmer” speaks to the EDM fan in me, and “Red Flag” is trashy fun. But new single “Make Me Like You” really is a bad song, despite what my 2am drunken Snapchats might imply. (Guilty pleasure. Sue me.) But it’s starting to feel like Gwen has Yoko Ono’d her own band, and that’s incredibly crushing because No Doubt is one of the best genre-bending bands out there. Their eclecticism and ability to transform kept every record fresh and exciting – and I do feel like they’re one of the reasons I love so many different genres of music. I morphed with them.
Despite my “meh” feelings about the new album and the “Gwen” we’re fed by the media, I’ll always be a fan, generally speaking, especially if No Doubt ever makes a real “comeback.” Sure, I’ll snark her up and down to friends, pine over how bland “Misery” is and how GOD AWFUL that Fetty Wap track is (seriously…the fuck!?). But whenever she’s trolled on Twitter by a Miley Cyrus fan or whoever, I’ll dig out my Tragic Kingdom tour tee and dust off my framed records that loyally hang on my bedroom walls. I’ll crank “Sixteen” or “Squeal” up really loud and get ready for battle, as if uniting to defend a sibling on the school bus that you completely abhor at home. I am a No Doubt fan, after all.