No Doubt Self-titled album cover

Debut Album Review: No Doubt – Self-Titled

There was no doubt this band was going somewhere.

Sometime in 1995, or maybe it was 1996, this striking blond woman singing about being just a girl in the world fronted this new group for a video I watched on late night television.

That’s my memory, at least, of my introduction to the Southern California band No Doubt. Little did I know, my degrees of separation to this group would fall drastically in short time and as it turns out, No Doubt was hardly a new band.

A couple of years later, I would strike up a conversation with a classmate in a fiction writing class at Cal State Fullerton who was Gwen Stefani’s (that striking blond woman) aunt. And, probably a year after that, I would begin a five-year tenure sitting next to one of the original members of No Doubt when I officially started my writing career as a reporter with the Orange County Register.

No Doubt exploded on the music scene with Tragic Kingdom in 1995 but the album, with a disparaging title used by many who grew up in Orange County for Disneyland, was not the band’s debut. Like a number of artists who found their footing in the 1990s, like The Offspring and Gin Blossoms, their smash records felt like a debut but in reality was their second, or in the case of No Doubt, their third.

Who would have thought when the self-titled No Doubt album was released in 1992 with little fanfare, Stefani would eventually become a household name? Some of that, sadly undeserved as her marriage to Bush singer Gavin Rossdale imploded but Stefani found even more recognition as one of those judges on a national singing competition and found new life and love with country singer Blake Shelton.

Meanwhile, No Doubt remains sidelined as the band also consisting of Tony Kanal on bass, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young, has not released new material since 2012. Stefani seems focused on her solo career with a fifth album reportedly in the works. No Doubt also looks and sounds a bit different then when they got their start. Though the Core 4 remain, their first album included Eric Stefani on keyboards and a horn section with Eric Carpenter on sax, Don Hammerstedt playing trumpet and Alex Henderson’s trombone.

No Doubt First Album Review

Back in the day, it was fun (at least for some) to fill their cups with a few ounces of every available soda, most often done at 7/11 where you had personal access to the soda fountain. This concoction was called, I believe, a Kamikaze.

Translate this into music genres and you get the flavor of No Doubt’s first album: Heavy on the ska and pop along with varying amounts of folk, reggae, Selena, funk, big band, rock, Paul Simon annnnnd a touch of disco. Then Gwen Stefani hits the mic and No Doubt quickly develops into their own. With a talent and tone that immediately catches your attention, Stefani boasted this distinct vocal with a range that crossed back and forth between near glorious to downright nagging. 

Kanal slaps down some thick bass on the quick start “BND” a 45 second instrumental introduction of sorts letting you know what to expect on this album before getting fully underway with “Let’s Get Back.” By now a more up to date Paul Simon has emerged with the accomplished horn section, then along with some pretty killer keyboards, Stefani finally gets her cue. A capable beginning to their debut featuring a trumpet and guitar solo showing something far different from the tidal wave of grunge at the time.

No Doubt settles into their pop ska, reggae groove for “Ache” featuring a stand-out sax solo from Carpenter and “Get On the Ball” before adding a little punk into “Move On” and an interesting if not welcome change in direction with the softer, polka sounding “Sad For Me” which puts a quick stop to the emerging sameness.

“Doormat” returns the ska formula albeit with heavier funk beats (slick little bass solo too) and a louder horn section, “Big City Train” develops some rock inflections as Dumont drops in some stronger chords. The chorus for “Trapped In a Box” sticks in your head and will eventually drive you mad, but this roots rock addition pre-dates Samantha Fish, and just to further prove the point the band has depth “Sometimes” features mostly Stefani in this relaxing, soft rock track with just enough instrumentation to balance out her vocals.

Ska resumes for “Sinking” but with a heavier reliance on Dumont’s guitar as the backbone for some welcome rock tones before the biggest dud in the quasi-scat “A Little Something Refreshing,” that thankfully lasts just a minute or so. “Paulina” changes direction again with a touch of Tejano (and some humor) before No Doubt closes their debut album with “Brand New Day” which starts a little rough before quickly turning up into a fun melodic rocker with bass, guitar and horns all finding prominence.

No doubt, had No Doubt fizzled out like new Coke, Gwen Stefani was going somewhere either on her own or with another band. But harping so much on her contributions does somewhat a disservice to everyone else. Kanal rips some serious bass lines throughout the album and though not a hard rock band, Dumont (sounding stifled at times) fully breaks free during his parts. But the horn section (apparently dismissed by the record company prior to Tragic Kingdom) also contributes a fair amount adding a surprise ingredient to the complexity and harmony of the songs.  

Debut Album Grade: B+
Overall Grade: B

No Doubt Debut Album Songs:

  1. BND
  2. Let’s Get Back
  3. Ache
  4. Get On the Ball
  5. Move On
  6. Sad For Me
  7. Doormat
  8. Big City Train
  9. Trapped In a Box
  10. Sometimes
  11. Sinking
  12. A Little Something Refreshing
  13. Paulina
  14. Brand New Day

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7 thoughts on “Debut Album Review: No Doubt – Self-Titled

  1. I’ve never heard any of this album, as I’m only familiar with their hits – all of which I eventually tired of, thanks to Stefani’s vocals that you so perfectly describe as having “a range that crossed back and forth between near glorious to downright nagging.” I do like her and No Doubt’s music, but can take only a little of it before I want to turn it off. Great write-up though.

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