Album Review: No Doubt, “Tragic Kingdom” (1995)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since No Doubt’s third album, Tragic Kingdom was released in 1995. Of course, the group (Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Adrian Young, Tom Dumont) has come a long way since then (even Stefani has found solo success), but it all begins with this album, where myself (and the rest of the world) were properly introduced to No Doubt’s ska-influenced brand of rock music.

The album begins with Spiderwebs, a reggae sounding song, with lots of trumpets and trombones (which are commonly heard throughout the album). Stefani sounds great as she sings about trying to dodge a relationship with someone she’s not into (“Sorry I’m not home right now/I’m walking into spiderwebs/So leave a message and I’ll call you back/…It’s all your fault/I gotta screen my phone calls”). The beat and catchy chorus make it a great introduction to the album.

One of the singles from the album was Just A Girl. From the up-tempo pop beat to the defiant and clever lyrics (“‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me/Don’t let me out of your sight/I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite/So don’t let me have any rights”), it easy to see why the song was a hit.

The album slows down a bit with Happy Now?, a song about the end of a relationship. Stefani’s voice is highlighted better on this song than others, and it’s clear to see that she has quite a bit of vocal ability. Her voice has a very pleasant tone it, while being distinct at the same time. A similar song is The Climb, though it actually might be classified as somewhat of a ballad. The track is simply composed of keyboard, drums, bass, a few trumpets, and vocals. Again, Stefani sounds great as she sings about getting through life’s obstacles. Though the song is very dreary musically, the lyrics (“And I can’t turn back now/It’s so very high but I can’t turn back now/If I keep it up, I’m gonna make it”) are positive and uplifting.

Sunday Morning picks the album back up with another ska sounding beat. I think this was the song that made me buy this album; I remember hearing the single on the radio, and being attracted to the beat and sing-able chorus.

No Doubt at Summer Tour 8

However, Don’t Speak plays as the album’s biggest single. Strangely enough, no matter how many times I’ve heard it on the radio, seen the video on VH1 Classic (yes, VH1 CLASSIC…so songs from the 90’s are now classic? Give me a break!), and even despite the fact that I’ve related it to several past boyfriends and played it over and over, I don’t think I could ever grow tired of this song. The song starts off slowly, with a haunting and simple melody before Stefani comes in. The song dramatically builds towards the chorus, and as Stefani reflects on the bitterness she feels towards her failed relationship with Kanal, the emotions seem so raw that you can’t help but feel her sorrow. The song will eternally be a hit for No Doubt; not only is it a great song, but it was also their first single to really garner them huge mainstream success.

Of course, there are some pitfalls on the album. Different People has a catchy tune, but the lyrics are incredibly uninteresting. Hey You and World Go Round both have bad melodies and equally bad lyrics.You Can Do It is a decent track to listen to, but very forgettable. And Sixteen is just an all around mess; the song isn’t catchy enough to really stick out and though the concept could’ve worked (the tough transition from being a teenager to a young adult) the lyrics are horrible (“You’ve been a juvenile/With a dolphin smile/With no elbow room/With your body in bloom”), and even Stefani’s voice tends to grate after a few verses.

The album comes to close with End It On This and Tragic Kingdom. End It On This is another song about a failed relationship (Kanal and Stefani, the two major songwriters of the album were still dealing with their own breakup, which is heavily reflected on the album’s songs). Tragic Kingdom is a strange little song (supposedly a commentary on the deterioration of the Disneyland theme park and how it’s creator, Walt Disney, “sold out”; the song even begins with the instructions to the Matterhorn and Space Mountains rides in the theme park), though it’s one of my favorites. The more I listen to the song, I’m sure it is actually a commentary on Disneyland, but regardless, it’s such a treat musically. There are a lot of trumpets, trombones and saxes, and the song has a whole ska/big band sound to it. Stefani sounds her best on this track, and it’s safe to say that No Doubt was saving the best song for last.

Tragic Kingdom is a decent effort, and it’s really only the singles that make the album. Luckily No Doubt has matured a lot musically since then, and their albums have a lot less filler than this one.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Spiderwebs
2. Excuse Me Mr.
3. Just A Girl
4. Happy Now?
5. Different People
6. Hey You
7. The Climb
8. Sixteen
9. Sunday Morning
10. Don’t Speak
11. You Can Do It
12. World Go ‘Round
13. End It On This
14. Tragic Kingdom

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR3Vdo5etCQ]
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