eyelights: the stylish look of the videos.
eyesores: the gradual loss of the music’s edge.
When I decided to watch Blondie‘s video collection, I tried to find other artists that were led by strong female figures. Clearly I had to pick Garbage (whose live concert blu-ray was the initial impetus for this month’s set, actually), who has a kick-@$$ lead singer. But I wasn’t entirely sure about who else to pick.
No Doubt evidently came to mind: I started listening to them a little after discovering Garbage and lead singer Gwen Stefani was a potent icon. However, whereas she once came off as a strong, independent woman, in the last decade or so she seems to have tossed much of that for a more glamourous image.
Now, I’m not saying that the two can’t work in tandem, but my impression, what with her becoming a tabloid regular, is that she’s really mellowed out over the years, perhaps even stripping off the rebellious image that she once affected. So I was unsure if I really wanted to go ahead with them.
But I’m sure glad that I did anyway.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed No Doubt. Although I found their albums somewhat inconsistent, there were such amazing tracks on each of them that they were hard to ignore. Even at their most self-indulgent, they were a lot of fun, and by the time ‘Rock Steady’ came out, they were a regular fixture in my CD player.
Flash forward to 2004, and No Doubt released a career retrospective boxed set called ‘Boom Box’, which was comprised of one greatest hits CD, a B-sides CD, a previously-released live show from 1997 and this compilation of all of their videos, including the newly-released cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life”.
Obviously, I had to snatch that up. I had wanted to pick up the live show for years (but didn’t because VHS tapes were on the way out), and desperately wanted the B-sides. I could have done without a compilation CD, since I had all of their albums, but I did look forward to seeing the videos at some point. I watched it soon thereafter.
The band’s videos are served up in reverse-chronological order, from “It’s My Life” all the way back to “Trapped in a Box” (taken from their 1992 debut album). Sadly there are no special features on this version of the DVD (it was later re-released separately and a few bonus features were added to it. It wasn’t enough for me to double-dip).
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
1. It’s My Life: While I suppose that Talk Talk fans perished a little inside when they heard No Doubt’s rendition of the band’s most popular track, I like it. It sounds a little too polished, not nearly as earthy and punchy as it could be, but it’s quite enjoyable.
The video consists of Stefani on trial for murdering her lovers (who are all successively played by the other band members), then goes to the gas chamber. She has a Marlene Dietrich/Madonna-like hairdo and looks hot as heck, in lingerie and glamourous clothing, her skin looking luscious. She even looks good in her orange prison jumpsuit, for God’s sake! You gotta love the camera that loves you. Anyway, the video is excellent because it has a wicked twist at end. 7.5/8.0
2. Running: “Running” was the last of four single from ‘Rock Steady’. I was disappointed because I was so sure that “Making Out” would be a single – it’s bloody infectious. And yet, this pretty, but middle-of-the-road song was a single? What gives?
The video is merely a montage of old pictures and footage. Even though it’s not chronological, it shows the evolution of the band through the years. Most noticeable, of course, is Stefani, who was once a natural, dark-haired beauty. Just to hammer the point home, there’s a little bit of new footage of the band – with Stefani, bleached and all dolled up. 7.5/7.5
3. Underneath It All: Featuring Lady Saw on the bridge, “Underneath It All” is an okay song, but I’m not exactly a fan of slow reggae. Or any reggae, for that matter. And, frankly, I find that it works better on the album than separately. Still, it was an enormous hit for the band.
The video features Stefani in full bleach and make up dancing sexy, stripping, and wearing very stylish clothes. Lots of bits don’t fit, mostly the ones with the other band members (who are riding around on bikes through a cartoon land, that’s sort of thing). For me, the best part is at the end, when Stefani’s in an all-white bedroom, dressed in white and she’s not wearing any noticeable make-up: she’s pretty, pure, sexy, lovely. 7.0/8.0
4. Hella Good: This one was an obvious single for the album, and is possibly the best track on it: it’s got great energy, with a superb keyboard hook and excellent guitar riffs. I was in love with it immediately when I first heard it.
The video is in black and white and takes place in cargo ships and around docks. Basically it consists of the band performing inside the cargo hold but also shows them riding around on water scooters. It fits the song tonally. 8.5/8.0
5. Hey Baby: Featuring a rap by Bounty Killer, No Doubt’s first single from ‘Rock Steady’ was quite a departure for the band, with its dancehall beats and reggae flavours. But it’s veritably catchy, in particular because of its repetitive party anthem chorus. It was a massive hit for them.
The video finds the band posing and partying. There’s also some fairly sexy dancing. It looks great, is extremely stylish, and is a perfect match for the song. My main beef lies in the many plugs for the album that are included not-so-subtly throughout the video – especially the CGI moment that has the album’s title repeated in the background multiple times, floating forward around the band members. 7.75/8.25
6. Bathwater: The last single from ‘Return of Saturn’, this is quintessential No Doubt: \it has a great bass/guitar rhythm going for it, and a super-catchy chorus. However, the lyrics are a bit saccharine for my taste.
The video mostly consists of Stefani dancing sexy with other dancers in tow (as well as solo) while the rest of the band performs to the tune. There’s lots of hip hop dancing and breakdancing in this one. It’s a visually pleasing video but it only partly works with the song. In some ways, it was a sign of thing to come, style-wise… 7.5/8.0
7. Simple Kind of Life: A song of regret, which presciently lays down the foundation for Stefani’s life since, “Simple Kind of Life” is a pretty song, but it’s nothing remarkable. It does have some nice acoustic bits, though.
The video has a wedding theme with Stefani running in a white dress and frizzy pink wig (the rest of the video, she has pink and blonde shoulder-length hair). The rest of the band at one point destroy wedding cakes with baseball bats, which may represent how Stefani feels about her career taking over her domestic ambitions. In between those segments Stefani hangs with each other band member individually as he plays his instrument. 7.5/8.0
8. Ex-Girlfriend: The first single from ‘Return of Saturn’, this is another classic No Doubt song: high energy and über-catchy. It’s essentially about Stefani’s relationship with Gavin Rossdale, whom she has since married.
For this video, Stefani sported deep pink braids and tons of makeup, giving her a new wave vibe. The video is partly a concert performance set in a blue box in front of a crowd, and partly the story of her trying to get back at her ex, played here by band member Kanal (whom she once dated). They have this terrific moment when they free-fall out of a window together. Cool stuff. This is a perfect video for the song, musically and thematically, 8.0/8.0
9. New: Originally released on the ‘Go’ soundtrack, and later included on ‘Return of Saturn’, “New” is a good pop-rock track with new wave stylings. No Doubt decided to shed their ska influences on this one for some reason.
The video starts with Stefani driving around, her pink-highlighted blonde hair in a pony tail. Adrian is on a motorcycle, following her. Kanal is a rich guy, who happens to be going to the same place, a party at a warehouse in a container terminal. Meanwhile, Tom is just some guy breaking into party. The party consists of lots of staggered and slo-mo dancing, and the video ends with the four of them leaving the party separately. 7.5/8.0
10. Oi to the World: A cover of The Vandals’ track, this version was released one year after the original for a 1997 Christmas compilation album. It’s an amusing, offbeat and enjoyable quasi-Xmas number.
The video is fairly DIY-looking. Shot in India, it consists of the band playing on the sidewalk and in the street. Inexplicably, Kanal runs off and is immediately followed by the rest of the band. The thing turns into an auto rickshaw chase through the streets, followed by a fight between them – after which they break it up and hug. 7.75/7.5
11. Sunday Morning: The final single from breakthrough and mega smash-hit ‘Tragic Kingdom’, this is a highlight of the album. In fact, I was tickled pink when they finally released it, because it’s a favourite of mine: the beat is terrific and the chorus is SUPER catchy. And I adore that it starts with a most excellent drum roll.
The video is basically the band playing in a garage. After the gig, Stefani gets food at the supermarket and the band make a meal together, eventually eating on a picnic table in the backyard. There are also shots of a guy waiting in a swing – presumably, for Stefani, lovelorn. Stefani looks like a glam ’50s housewife with her leopard skirt and curled bangs. Here she isn’t absolutely skinny, which is nice. 8.25/8.0
12. Excuse Me Mr.: This is an excellent, high energy song with a quirky bridge. Rumour has it that a folk version was recorded but shelved indefinitely, despite the producer’s protests, as the band didn’t like it. Fine by me, because this one is all we need.
This is mostly a performance video in what looks like a circus arena with a few burlesque dancers in the background. During the quirky bridge, it turns into a mock ’20s film (albeit in colour) of her walking onto train tracks and laying down in front of a train. Then it’s back to the arena for a media frenzy. Stefanie is dressed in all-white, with black and white-striped arm warmers. Very cute. 7.5/7.5
13. Don’t Speak: A heart-wrenching song of loss, “Don’t Speak” is gorgeous, but so emotionally loaded. It’ll always be one of my all-time favourite break-up songs. Musically, it’s quite interesting, with superb Spanish guitar licks, horns, great rhythm from the guitar and beats from the drum.
This a mixed video with the band playing together in a barn-like garage on the one hand, performing live on the other, and also doing a photo shoot (in which Gwen becomes the center of attention, causing friction in the band) . There are also bookends of Kanal picking fruit off of a tree. Here, Stefani is barefoot, in a simple dress. She’s breathtakingly beautiful. 8.5/8.0
14. Spiderwebs: This track features some excellent horns, a terrific rhythm, and a high energy chorus. It’s a prime example of No Doubt at their best. The final part that slows down into a fade out ska rhythm is quite nice too.
This was my introduction to band. I had no idea who they were, but I would never forget this video. It features fish-eye lens, and a quirky, lovely, Stefani in a “blonde, punk, Betty Page” look doing lots of crotch shots at the camera. There’s also Asian subtitles overtop, footage of a wedding between that devolves into chaos and weird psychedelic bit during the bridge. Fun! 8.0/8.0
15. Just a Girl: A female empowerment song, this is the first single from ‘Tragic Kingdom’ and the one that hooked many first-time fans. I like it, but it seems a bit middle-of-the-road for the band. Although, I must say that I love the message.
The video is set in a bathroom and a waiting area. Gwen plays it angry then vulnerable then angry again. Eventually a house party breaks out, closing the video. It’s nothing special, really. But she did popularize the bindi, after which many non-Hindi women began to do the same. 7.5/7.5
16. Trapped in a Box: The only single culled from No Doubt’s self-titled debut album, it’s an unusual number – even during the alternative years. This is particularly due to Stefani’s vocals: while a fresh new voice, it takes getting used to her style. The song also does strange things like mixing banjo and horns during its ska-tinged chorus.
The video was self-financed because the label wouldn’t help them out, so it’s a very low budget affair. Basically, the band is performing in a room in someone’s house, but it also transitions to a set that has a ’50s jazz style, as well as to a rooftop performance. Here, Stefani looks like a regular girl, with her shoulder-length hair down, barely bleached, in a simple plaid dress. How things would change. 6.75/6.75
What is particularly fascinating is to watch the metamorphosis of Gwen Stefani from riot grrl to glamour puss. Would the 1992 Stefani shake her head at the 2003 version of herself, or ogle her with envy? Personally, I think that she did a splendid job of transitioning, but I much prefer Gwen au naturel, not the polished, if sultry, pop siren.
As for the band as a whole, it’s terrific that they were able to transition musically without sounding like sell-outs. Given that they always wet their toes in a variety of styles, it comes as no surprise to fans or anyone listening to the music in this collection that they would move from ska influences to reggae and dancehall influences.
The videos in this collection are all the more impressive for their overall quality. Say what you will about the music, but the videos are made in a stylish, visually-pleasing manner and are vibrant in a way that few bands’ videos are. Watching this set may only take an hour, but it’s an hour that really makes an impression.
And while they may be available online in various streaming formats, there’s really nothing quite like watching them in a high-quality version, on a large screen, and with the sound system blasting. It reminds you (or makes you realize, as the case may be) just why No Doubt became one of the leading bands of the nineties.
Date of viewing: February 16, 2014