Tragic Kingdom

Tragic Kingdom

It was the ska record heard ’round the world. No Doubt’s third album, Tragic Kingdom, released in 1995, unexpectedly propelled the left-of-center band into mainstream success, thanks to timeless singles like “Don’t Speak” and “Just A Girl,” both co-written by lead singer Gwen Stefani. In the mid-’90s, Stefani was just getting her feet wet as a songwriter when her brother and former No Doubt keyboardist Eric Stefani left the band, following stylistic disagreements with Interscope Records. In previous projects, Eric undertook the songwriting responsibilities, but after his departure—and with the addition of producer Matthew Wilder—Gwen moved deeper into the writer’s chair, leading to a more pop-oriented sound. Tragic Kingdom arrived amidst the mainstream peak of grunge and alternative music: Soundgarden’s Superunknown was dominating the album charts, and young rock fans were still flying the flannel. By contrast, No Doubt hailed from the sunny environs of Anaheim, California, and the success of Tragic Kingdom would inject a blast of breezy ska into the airwaves and the album charts—and, in doing so, turn Gwen Stefani into a genuine Gen-X superstar. She was one of the few true pop dynamos of the 1990s: a singer with a voice that could project both ferocity and naivety—sometimes in the same song, as with “Just A Girl.” And despite her sunshiny exterior, she poured the band’s behind-the-scenes conflicts—including the departure of her brother, and her breakup with bassist Tony Kanal—into her lyrics. That flurry of feelings gave Tragic Kingdom its emotional heft—but it was the band’s sprightly playing and songwriting that would turn the album into a chart-topping smash.

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