Check out When We Were Young’s No Doubt episode here.
No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom has been mentioned on the podcast several times. Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion first introduced me to the band, inspiring me to buy those soundtracks (a nice intro to some 80s music, but No Doubt-less) and, eventually, the Tragic Kingdom.
Revisiting Tragic Kingdom was fun. I’d heard the singles many times in the years since, but hadn’t listened through to it as an album in a long time. “Just A Girl” and “Sunday Morning” are still by far my standout faves, but it was fun to rediscover songs I’d forgotten about, like “Happy Now” and “Sixteen,” though I instantly remembered almost everything about them. Other albums we’ve revisited on the podcast had more substance and history to dig into — Nirvana’s Nevermind, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill — but No Doubt is mostly just fun. That isn’t to say the songwriting isn’t interesting — it’s just not what jumps out to me when I hear the music. I turn to No Doubt for a good time more than I look to them for any insights or deep emotions. (That said, I do mine plenty of meaning out of a few songs — like “Sunday Morning,” my personal favorite.)
Tragic Kingdom takes me back to the days when I first discovered actual music. It was the first CD I ever bought (because the Hercules soundtrack doesn’t really count) and made me feel pretty damn cool for a moment there. Of course, then No Doubt subsequently became a bit overexposed, particularly with the success of “Don’t Speak,” and then they didn’t quite have the edge me and most of my friends were looking for at that point anymore.I’ve appreciated many of No Doubt’s later efforts, from “New” to Rock Steady and some of Gwen Stefani’s solo stuff. It’s enjoyable to hear an album from a female perspective that isn’t primarily known for that. You can hardly find any commentary on Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill that doesn’t reference her gender, but No Doubt managed to slip under that radar, for the most part, even thought “Just A Girl” is about as blatantly feminist as you can get.
I’m not sure I’d call Tragic Kingdom a truly great album on the whole. Its tracks range from great to fine, though a spirit of light fun carries over its entirety. It’s also distinct from other 90s music. No Doubt’s success helped to usher in an almost-mainstreaming of ska, and they may also have been partially to blame for that bizarre swing revival. But when I listen to Tragic Kingdom, I don’t really hear hallmarks of the 90s. I hear a band carving out its own unique sound — a sound that unfortunately got watered down in the band’s post-2000 years, as they experimented with more generic pop sounds.
No Doubt has always been pretty good, but they didn’t remain that distinct. Thankfully, at their peak in 1995, they were, and Tragic Kingdom still sounds fresh in 2017.