No Doubt

Return of Saturn (Interscope)

Pop tart Gwen Stefani -- pretty as can be, with a midriff for the ages -- celebrated a special birthday recently: the dreaded three-oh. And by industry standards -- those youth-obsessed, number-crunching principles -- such a cosmic reckoning usually means one thing: Keep the salt lick and denture grip handy, folks, Grandma's ready for pasture. But not before she blubbers on and frickin' on about all three of life's injustices: bad boys, being helplessly drawn to bad boys, and the knowledge that only bad boys are capable of dumping her on her pert little poodle-skirted heinie. To make matters worse, a new generation of interlopers are certified Gwennabes -- and they have poodle skirts, too, and better, younger heinies! It's a new, disturbing trend that clearly plagues our sad, creaking Gwendolyn.

Thank heavens for the faithful planet Saturn, which realigns itself every 30 years to the precise position it held at a person's birth. When Saturn returns it's time to reflect and mature. In Gwen's case think of it as a "Journey to the Center of the, Like, Way Geriatric Valley Girl."

Better never than late, Return of Saturn would be easier to swallow if the merchandisers weren't packaging it as so much glamorized, poodle-skirted heinie -- dyed, perfumed, sickeningly cute -- and if the band didn't display such a blatant disregard for good black leather. Oh, yeah, the music: Sporting a screaming fuchsia coif, the chanteuse (make that fuchsianteuse) regurgitates her familiar pap with a bent for '80s-era new wave. It's Missing Persons meets Oingo Boingo in a Split Enz nightmare. Simon Le Bon taken hostage, mistreated, left for fashionably dead. Stretch limos and smog. Reaganomics and mullet cuts so bad you wake up screaming. Jesus H. Marimba! Didn't it suck enough the first time around?

Take a tune like the synth-dredged "Magic's in the Makeup" and try not to picture anorexics in flapjack powder hawking wares for Revlon. Take "Artificial Sweetener," a mopey ballad in which Pinkie realizes that a me-first credo gets in the way of "finding herself" -- the irony of it all! "I'm on the fence/Push me off it," she wails. How 'bout the Grand Canyon instead?

Combining cold studio gloss-and-kick with tired electronic hookery, producer Glen Ballard beefs up this dud with few traces of the sound that put the band on the map to begin with: ska. "Marry Me" slow-dances with ska's hipper cousin, reggae -- proof that No Doubt should spark more of the good green -- and finds the "diva" wrestling with that nagging spinster/fairy princess dilemma. Indeed, on most of this disc, she simply wallows incessantly in her self-made helplessness. For all the lost little girls out there pining away for a bad boy to come make it all better, you'd empower yourself waaay more by listening to Patti Smith or Joan Jett. Actually you could do just about anything besides listen to Return to Saturn, except maybe vomit.

 
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