Rock Steady (Bonus Track Version)
Going into 2001’s Rock Steady, No Doubt was out of sorts. Their breakthrough, 1995’s Tragic Kingdom, had made them a multiplatinum success, and Gwen Stefani an inspiration to a new generation of feminists—but its follow-up, 2000’s Return of Saturn, sold a fifth of the copies. Stefani said she’d gotten in the habit of stewing over her lyrics to the point of depression. Guitarist Tom Dumont said he was proud of the music they’d made, but the experience of making it was starting to feel like going to work. They were taking themselves too seriously, they thought—so they decided not to.
Rock Steady was born out of a ritual that started on the Return of Saturn tour: Play the show, go back to the dressing room, load a boombox with Jamaican dancehall, grab some people, and have a little party. Where Saturn—an underrated album, admittedly—feels like a young band reaching for maturity, Rock Steady sounds like a band mature enough to cool out and enjoy it. They dabble in dancehall (“Hey Baby”), futuristic R&B (the Neptunes-produced “Hella Good”), and toylike synth ballads (“Running”). And they don’t sound afraid to be a little goofy (“Making Out,” which features the absurdly to-the-point line “I’m really missing it in so many ways/I anticipate us making out”). But in the simplicity of their approach is a new kind of clarity: They want to have fun, so they have it. And when they sober up for a love song—the beautiful “Underneath It All”—it’s with a lightness that their younger, more serious selves couldn’t have understood.