Tuesday, January 19, 2010

441- Tragic Kingdom- I certainly didn’t see this coming

Album: Tragic Kingdom.

Artist: No Doubt.

Year: 1995.

Genre: Pop.


1. Spiderwebs
2. Excuse Me Mr.
3. Just a Girl
4. Happy Now?
5. Different People
6. Hey You
7. The Climb
8. Sixteen
9. Sunday Morning
10. Don't Speak
11. You Can Do It
12. World Go 'Round
13. End It on This
14. Tragic Kingdom

This caught me by surprise. I honestly wasn’t expecting to see No Doubt anywhere in the top 500 albums. It’s nothing against the band themselves I just had no idea that they actually made an impact. I can remember when this came out and heard one or two of the singles but I can’t recall anyone critically raving about it. I wonder how it would fare if the Top 500 was voted on again today? 14 years after its release is Tragic Kingdom being held up as a pop masterpiece or has everyone moved on? I guess we’ll find out when Rolling Stone does the inevitable reboot of the 500 list.

Part of me is also surprised that more people haven’t embraced No Doubt’s approach to music making. It seems to me that if you want to sell lots of albums it’s a good idea to appeal to as many people as you possibly can. Death Metal albums are all very well but they only appeal to fans of Death Metal which is a fairly shallow pool to draw your potential audience from. But if you can produce a cross-genre release that’s as inclusive as possible then sales await you by the truckload. No Doubt’s secret was to get a pop singer who appeals to female fans of popular music and stick her in front of a bunch of guys who know how to play rock and roll. Clever plan.

I’m not normally a pop fan because most of your popular divas sing in front of a musical backing which takes all of twenty minutes to dream up. The important thing is the voice in front (and the video clip), the musicians behind could be replaced by machines, and in fact they frequently are. Rock fans like me don’t like this, it doesn’t matter how nice the singer is to hear or look at and how catchy the tune is we just don’t respond to it if there’s nothing real there to latch on to. No Doubt put as much effort into what goes on behind Gwen Stefani as she does. Pop fans bought it and their boyfriends were prepared to listen as well.

In fact they actually put more effort in than they needed to. There’s a lot going on in every track. Bass and guitar riffs, horn sections, tempo changes there’s a lot to appreciate. You could remove Stefani’s vocals and enjoy most of the tracks as instrumentals, and there aren’t many pop albums that could make that boast.

Consequently putting Tragic Kingdom in a genre is tricky. It’s a bit too rock to be pop and a bit too pop to be rock. It’s possibly influenced by Ska in it’s rhythms but not enough that you’d call it an actual Ska album. It’s a happy product of a time when bands were liberated from genres. Record companies were less interested in what section of music store it belonged and more interested in how they could sell it on MTV. And Gwen Stefani’s looks made No Doubt’s music an easy sell. Which is not to take anything away from her musical ability and vocal talents.

Tragic Kingdom dances lightly with ska melodies, flirts with rock, skips gracefully with pop and then falls flat on it’s face when it slams into prog-rock at the very end. The title track which closes the album has all the pretensions and affectations of progressive rock and closes the album on a definite low point. But before the line graph of the album crashes at the end of the disc there is a definite high point with Don’t Speak which was one of the album’s many singles (at times it seems like Tragic Kingdom sprouted more singles than it has tracks). Don’t Speak is one of the songs that is relentlessly catchy with a vocal hook that stays with you long after the song ends. But unlike a lot of lesser bands No Doubt managed to milk every inch of mileage out of their song’s impact. The production and Stefani’s vocals make a catchy song a bit of a classic I have to say.

Tragic Kingdom may drag a bit in the middle and fall in a heap at the end but there are more hits than misses and those who (like me) dismissed it should give it another look.

Highlight: Don’t speak.

Lowlight: The Title track.

Influenced by: Madonna and Ska.

Influenced: Pink and other’s who produce pop without a conventional look.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "first of all i'd like to start of by saying that no doubt is not and never will be a ska band. for some real ska or ska punk bands try listening to the pietasters,the toasters,skinnerbox,the gadjits,issac green and the skalars,the busters,the specials,the slackers,desmond dekker,op.ivy,the skoidats and many many more."

-the best way to annoy someone on Amazon is to say that a band with commercial appeal is part of an obscure sub-culture.

So do you have No Doubt about Stefani’s talents or is it all just Tragic? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. I thought Rolling Stone were just old codgers who only really liked the B's of music -- Bob (Dylan), Bruce (Springsteen), and Bono.

    That they included this pleased me.