With the return of the punks in the mid-’90s came a resurgence of their slightly more commercial rivals, new wave bands. No Doubt found a niche as a new wave/ska act, on the strength of vocalist Gwen Stefani’s persona — alternately an embrace of little-girl-lost innocence and riot grrrl feminism — exemplified on the band’s break-out single, “Just a Girl.”
Formed in 1986 as a ska band inspired by Madness, the lineup of No Doubt initially comprised John Spence, Gwen Stefani, and her brother, Eric. While playing the party-band circuit around Anaheim, the trio picked up bassist Tony Kanal, born in India but raised in Great Britain and the U.S. Hardened by the suicide of Spence in December 1987, No Doubt nevertheless continued; Gwen became the lone vocalist and the group added guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young.
No Doubt’s live act began to attract regional interest, and Interscope Records signed them in 1991. The band’s self-titled debut a year later, an odd fusion of ’80s pop and ska, sank without a trace in the wake of the grunge movement. As a result, Interscope refused to support No Doubt’s tour or further recordings. The band responded by recording on their own during 1993 and 1994; the result was the self-released Beacon Street Collection, much rawer and more punk-inspired than the debut. Eric Stefani left just after its release, later working as an animator for The Simpsons.
By late 1994, Interscope allowed recordings to resume, and Tragic Kingdom was released in October 1995. The album served as a document of the breakup of Gwen Stefani and Kanal, whose relationship had lasted seven years. Thanks to constant touring and the appearance of “Just a Girl” and “Spiderwebs” on MTV’s Buzz Bin, the album hit the Top Ten in 1996. Stefani, who has made no secret of her pop ambitions, became a centerpiece of attention as an alternative to the crop of tough girls prevalent on the charts. By the end of the year, Tragic Kingdom hit number one on the album charts, almost a year after its first release; the record’s third single, the ballad “Don’t Speak,” was the band’s biggest hit to date.
No Doubt’s much-anticipated follow-up, The Return of Saturn, was released in the spring of 2000, and “Simple Kind of Life” and “Ex-Girlfriend” were both critically successful at the mainstream and college levels. A year later, Stefani also hooked up with rap chanteuse Eve for the single “Let Me Blow Your Mind” (it went on to earn a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2002); however, Stefani also joined her band for the release of their fifth album. The ska revival and new wave sounds of Rock Steady were issued hot on the heels of lead single “Hey Baby” in December 2001. The album generated several major hits — the heavy synths of “Hella Good” and the seductive reggae of “Underneath It All” being the biggest — and the group continued touring the record over the next couple of years, all leading to the release of the hits collection The Singles 1992-2003 in 2003.
The following year, the band took a hiatus of undetermined length as Stefani launched a solo career with 2004′s Love.Angel.Music.Baby. This hiatus wound up lasting the better part of a decade, during which Stefani stayed in the spotlight via two hit solo albums (the second, The Sweet Escape, arriving in 2006), while the other bandmembers pursued other projects, the most prominent being Tony Kanal’s collaborations with P!nk in 2008.
No Doubt eased back into action in 2009 with a reunion tour accompanied by the announcement of an impending new album. That record took a while to complete, but it was finally finished in 2012 and released as Push and Shove that fall. It was preceded by the single “Settle Down” and debuted at number three on the Billboard charts. In 2016, as Stefani was in the midst of mounting a comeback with her third solo effort, This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Dumont, Kanal, and Young formed a new band named DREAMCAR with AFI frontman Davey Havok. ~ John Bush