Hear Me Out: No Doubt Returns With Vintage Sound

By Chris Azzopardi

No Doubt, 'Push and Shove'

No Doubt's femme-fronter Gwen Stefani longs for the past on a track from the band's new album, "Push and Shove," when she sings, "Do you remember how it was?" Though the song, "Sparkle," is likely lamenting a relationship that's aged into oblivion, it can't help but be read as a nostalgic trip down memory lane - the kind that comes 11 years after releasing your last album, where "it's never gonna be the same" even if we want it to be. The decade between "Rock Steady" and this roots-rewind established Gwen Stefani as a solo act and mommy. So while it's true that we can't expect the same No Doubt - the foursome are all in their 40s and have eight kids among them - "Push and Shove" recaptures the scrappy-pop magic of the 26-year-old band. That imitable grungy ska sound is immediately recognizable on "Settle Down," a single that goes from Middle Eastern restaurant to nightclub. One of the best songs, "Easy," works evocative '80s synths into a power-ballad rush that feels inspired by late-night drives along the Cali coast. Not all the softies prevail: The few fillers tacked on at the end, especially the closer "Dreaming the Same Dream," are lost for ideas. But even the ridiculousness of "Looking Hot," which could fit any of Gwen's solo sessions, has a cool strut that you can't help but go bananas over. Welcome back, No Doubt. Grade: B

Dragonette, 'Bodyparts'

Could Dragonette be having a Robyn moment? The Canadian trio, which has struck up buzz in the dance underground, is ready to mingle with the mainstream - and, like Robyn did with "Body Talk," has an album accessible enough to put them there. (Look at the album titles, too: one's about body parts; the other - Ms. Fembot herself - gets those parts talking.) They also have the cocksure confidence to climb that ladder: "Live in This City" isn't just the biggest earworm on the album; it's better than most of what's currently on radio. It's also a damn good song to dance to in your underwear. Same goes for "Giddy Up," a hyper jolt of Mario Bros. blips, frontwoman Martina Sorbara's brisk singing and a novelty sound that can't help but conjure the teen years of Hanson - in a good way. Songs like "Untouchable," about tainting a goody two-shoes, and "Run Run Run," almost indistinguishable from Goldfrapp, take an evocative approach that's tempered so much they barely register; the same pure-pop punch just ain't there. But "Let It Go" has that emerging from every corner of its synth-powered, drum-slapped whoop; "My Legs," too," is a saucy dance-floor ditty - but it also has a message of empowerment tucked in its get-down proclamation. "Bodyparts" is dance music that's guiltless even after the drinks wear off. Grade: B-

Also Out

Tori Amos, 'Gold Dust'

It's natural to want to reflect on the originals after hearing the rerecorded versions - backed by the famed Metropole Orchestra - on Tori Amos' latest release. Don't be surprised if many of them sound very similar. Though the set list, which covers Amos' early work as much it does the lesser-known and more current fare, is a satisfying collection of songs, the differences are so subtle that "Gold Dust" is more direct, with just minor changes - though a new "Precious Things" is refreshing. Made to commemorate 20 years since her "Little Earthquakes" debut, it's best to look at this as a greatest hits.

Cher Lloyd, 'Sticks & Stones'

That Cher Lloyd recently declared Nicki Minaj a pop-music trailblazer shouldn't be surprising. On her debut, the fourth-place finisher on Britain's "The X Factor" shows signs of doing Minaj better than the rapper herself. Lloyd can sing (standout: "Behind the Music"), and she's not trying too hard with the overblown gangsta fakeness. Her raps might skirt closer to the Disney Channel than BET, but "Oath" is fun for any programming - catchy, cute and licked with a sweetness that Nicki just can't pull off. The album derails halfway through its skimpy 35 minutes - but with a name like Cher, don't count her out.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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