13 Years Ago: No Doubt’s ‘Return of Saturn’ Album Released
Nobody expected No Doubt’s second album, ‘Tragic Kingdom,’ to become a hit. Not even No Doubt. Their self-titled 1992 debut bombed, and the LP they recorded as the follow-up was rejected by their record company. So when ‘Tragic Kingdom’ was released in 1995, expectations were about as low as you’d expect for a ska group fronted by a woman during an era when testosterone-fueled indie rock with lots of guitars was all the rage.
But ‘Tragic Kingdom’ reached No. 1 and spawned seven singles, including the chart-topping ballad ‘Don’t Speak.’ The surprise success kept No Doubt on the road for more than two years. And when the band returned to the studio to work on their next album, anticipation and tension were high. The quartet quarreled among itself. And things never really softened with the record company after it turned down their original second album. It took more than two years to complete ‘Return of Saturn.’
The five-year break between ‘Tragic Kingdom’ and ‘Return of Saturn’ (which celebrates its 13th anniversary today) sharpened No Doubt. The songs are more adventurous, both lyrically and musically. There’s still plenty of ska rhythms on the record, but touches of New Wave, alternative rock and straightforward pop also found their way into the grooves. And songs like ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ and ‘Simple Kind of Life’ reflected Gwen Stefani’s relationship with Bush singer Gavin Rossdale, whom she married in 2002.
Still, ‘Return of Saturn’ often sounds like it’s carrying a ton of burdens. Fame, growing up, growing old, relationships, babies and pop music all figure into Stefani’s new worldview (check out 'Bathwater' and 'New'). And they’re not an easy mix. The album wasn’t a huge hit, even after debuting at No. 2. It eventually went platinum, but only ‘Simple Kind of Life’ hit the Top 40, stalling at No. 38. No Doubt quickly rebounded and released ‘Rock Steady,’ their most musically wide open and best album, the next year. ‘Return of Saturn’ was the somewhat faltering step they needed to get there.
Watch No Doubt's Video for 'Simple Kind of Life'