[HOT TRACK]To be certain, fun is not back

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[HOT TRACK]To be certain, fun is not back

Pop music is about having fun, singing and dancing. No Doubt, a California-based band, worked that formula deftly from its small-time ska band beginnings in 1986 until it hit pay dirt 10 years later with a chart-topping album. With stardom, however, came its creativity-stifling chaperone: seriousness. But the band decided recently to ditch gravity and get back on the fun freeway. Its latest release, "Rock Steady," is full of "danceable tracks based on rock," as the group put it. Unfortunately, though, the No Doubt vehicle, after 15 years on the road, needs a tune-up.

The power ballad "Don't Speak," from the 1996 album "Tragic Kingdom," put the pouty, beguiling vocals of lead singer Gwen Stefani on radio waves all over the world. "I can't believe this is happening to our loser band," Stefani said at the time. But the band's magic, grounded in a lighthearted-punky sound, petered out after a few years. The 2000 album "Return of Saturn" disappointed both the band and its fans, and No Doubt - Stefani, the guitarist Tom Dumont, the bassist Tony Kanal and the drummer Adrian Young - knew that a change was in order.

During the band's 2000 world tour, the idea for "Rock Steady" was born. "After our shows we'd put on some Jamaican dance hall music backstage and throw all-night dance parties," Stefani explained. The band decided it wanted to provide its fans with a similar experience. The result is a more complex mix of styles - including rock, reggae, hip-hop, punk and house - that melt, unfortunately, into rock that's a little too steady; a dry and uninspired concoction, from a collaboration with five different producers.

After an odd intro that's both sluggish and ethereal, the first single, "Hella Good," features groovy, deep beats and a solid guitar riff, but Stefani's vocals are distastefully husky and gluey. She sings "Keep on dancing," but this one won't get you off your bar stool. The next cut, "Hey Baby," is the most charged-up song, and "Making Out" has a jumpy electronic pulse. Through the rest of the CD, Stefani fails to affect the fresh, bewitching persona she did in "Don't Speak," conveying instead a sense of tired maturity.

The band recorded the 13 tracks in London, Los Angeles and Jamaica, and claim that the album packs the essence of those centers of hipdom: London's trendy dance clubs, LA's sunny atmosphere and Jamaica's color and spirit. But after listening to "Rock Steady," you may not want to visit all three places in one trip.

by Chun Su-jin

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