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No Doubt

That Gwen Stefani hasn't become a caricature of herself is either testament to her utter savvy or to the fact that she basically began as a caricature in the first place — and beat everybody to the punch line. That's not to say that, back in the day, No Doubt's main face was in any way ridiculous. Rather, it's that her high-color persona was always ludicrously exaggerated. And if over the years, Stefani has outgrown her original labels, she's done so by pushing pop's envelope so far that there was little left for her to push forward.

Take 2004's multiplatinum Love. Angel. Music. Baby., which found Stefani in the good company of everyone from Nellee Hooper to the Neptunes and which would earn the lass six Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year. Like her clothing line, L.A.M.B., from which the LP takes its title, the record looked all over the world for inspiration and came out a cacophony of cultural conceits. Or take 2006's more adult-oriented The Sweet Escape, which produced the Akon-assisted hit song of the same name. Here Stefani's love of the dance floor seems superseded by her yen for balladry, despite the yodeling first single, "Wind It Up." But it still managed to show that a woman of the world can get wild every once in awhile.

And if we're a little less than forthcoming about Stefani's work with No Doubt, it's only because the band has not released anything together since 2003, when a succession of live albums and DVDs was offset by The Singles: 1992-2003. That featured only one new song, a cover of Talk Talk's "It's My Life." So when Stefani and company hit the stage next Wednesday, it'll be both a welcome reunion for No Doubt and a chance to again see what the hot fuss was about from the beginning.

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John Hood

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