No Doubt Return of Saturn

With Gwen Stefani sporting a new hot pink look that recalls Missing Persons femme fatale Dale Bozzio, it's hardly surprising that the music on No Doubt's long-awaited follow up to their mega-selling Tragic Kingdom record would contain a strong hint of '80s new wave-inspired pop. While not marking a radical shift in direction, Return's 14 tracks almost completely abandon the ska-punk sound that the band was originally known for, dating back to their self-titled debut. With the help/hindrance (depending on your point of view) of radio-rainmaker Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette), No Doubt explores many new elements, most of which actually work quite well. Tracks like the lead-off single, "Ex-Girlfriend," "New," which originally appeared on the Go soundtrack, "Staring Problem" and the very Missing Persons-sounding "Six Feet Under" show that band can still rock out while "Simple Kind of Life," "Magic's in the Makeup" and "Marry Me" represent the band's more laid back side. In the middle are affecting and infectious pop songs like "Artificial Sweetener," "Comforting Lie" and "Home Now." The binding element is Gwen's lyrics, most of which focus on the themes of love and loss as observed from the point of view a woman entering her third decade of life and viewing things with a much clearer head. Despite its at-times too slick production, Return of Saturn is a surprisingly fun and emotive pop record with a deeper-than-you-might-expect lyrical and musical maturity. (Interscope)