12 Years Ago: No Doubt’s ‘Rock Steady’ Album Released
It took No Doubt almost five years to release ‘Return of Saturn,’ the follow-up to their 1995 breakthrough album ‘Tragic Kingdom.’ It took them a little more than a year to make their next record, ‘Rock Steady,’ which celebrates its 12th anniversary today.
The commercial dip may have had something to do with the quick turnaround: ‘Tragic Kingdom’ sold more than eight million copies; ‘Return of Saturn’ barely broke one million. But more than that, ‘Return of Saturn,’ even with five long years between records, sounded like a ‘Tragic Kingdom’ copy. There was absolutely nothing new or, frankly, good (besides the tuneful confessional ‘Simple Kind of Life’) about it.
‘Rock Steady’ was a reinvention of sorts, and a relatively speedy one. The quartet traveled across the globe, recording the album in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Jamaica with hotshot producers Nellee Hooper, the Neptunes, Ric Ocasek, William Orbit, Prince, Sly & Robbie and others. It’s a diverse mix, and it paid off: The LP features the band’s best and most playful material.
Abandoning, for the most part, the lazy ska-rock that made them famous, No Doubt settled into more pop-friendly grooves and dance-club beats on ‘Rock Steady.’ And they fit so well. Gwen Stefani is a natural pop singer with sharp instincts for melody and phrasing (which always seemed a bit forced when the group was pushing ska music). Could anyone be in front of ‘Hey Baby?’ Sure. But few singers would make it stick like Stefani.
The album ricochets between styles and sounds. ‘Hella Good’ is funky disco-era electro-rock. ‘Hey Baby’ pops along a contemporary dancehall groove. ‘Underneath It All’ runs on traditional reggae. And ‘Running’ is all synth-pop meditation. It all comes together in a new-millennium dance party fueled by an assorted blend of club and pop beats.
‘Rock Steady’ didn’t chart as high as ‘Return of Saturn,’ reaching only No. 9. But it eventually sold more copies, topping three million worldwide. ‘Underneath It All’ became No Doubt’s second-biggest single (following ‘Tragic Kingdom’’s No. 1 ballad ‘Don’t Speak’), hitting No. 3. ‘Hey Baby’ also hit the Top 5. Following the release of the album, the band would take an 11-year break for families and Stefani’s solo career, returning with ‘Push and Shove,’ a similar mix of sounds from planet pop. But it’s never sounded as grand as it does on ‘Rock Steady.’
Watch No Doubt’s Video for ‘Hey Baby’