It’s been more than 10 years since No Doubt’s last studio album (2001′s Rock Steady), but the band has always insisted the hiatus was never a breakup – even after Gwen Stefani’s solo turn, spurred by the viral success of “Hollaback Girl,” elevated her to Madonna-like status. Push and Shove finds the crew jostling for a renewed sense of solidarity, and as the title track makes clear, the chemistry is still strong. “Respect nobody, Bonnie and Clyde it/ Not gonna testify, got me under oath big time,” Stefani raps in a dancehall scattershot (with a guest toast from Jamaican rapper Busy Signal), and though she’s describing an outlaw couple on the run, the theme of do-or-die loyalty is what lingers – a band is like a gang, after all.
Stefani can still tap at will into her sassy rebel persona, which leaps out of the dance-pop fog machine of “Looking Hot” and the bouncy “Settle Down,” but she also tones it down for the reggae-spiced confection “Sparkle” (a throwback to the mellow vibes of UB40) and the Madge-worthy ballad “Undone.” Meanwhile, producer Mark “Spike” Stent, who had a solid hand in Stefani’s The Sweet Escape, takes full advantage of the space the band gives him, washing Tom Dumont’s guitar in trippy waves of delay (“One More Summer”) and pushing the rhythm section of Tony Kanal and Adrian Young to the front of the mix when the power-pop mood calls for it (“Dreaming the Same Dream”). Call it a coming-of-age or a coming-to-grips; No Doubt has settled into a groove and sound that’s a bit safer, a bit warmer, but no less rambunctious when the moment heats up.