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No Doubt - the highs, lows and pitfalls of fame


Biography: Jack Foley

AFTER 17 years together, No Doubt have been likened to a virtual phoenix, given their difficult history.

From an unassuming ska outfit in Anaheim, California, to a fixture in the worldwide collective pop-rock psyche, there is no denying the band's staying power during some pretty hard times.

The No Doubt saga began in 1986, when band co-founder, Eric Stefani, began plucking away Madness tunes on the family piano and slowly pulled in his sister, Gwen, and other friends, to form a band.

Just over a year into its existence, however, the band was struck by tragedy, when original front man, John Spence, took his own life, thereby forcing the inexperienced Gwen to make the transition to lone front woman.

Luckily, they had already found a following in the underground southern Californian ska scene, but later distanced themselves from it, as they found it too confining.

After landing a recording contract in 1991, they released a largely overlooked eponymous debut in 1992, only to find more trouble lying in wait.

In the midst of recording a make or break follow-up between 1993 and 1995, main songwriter, Eric, departed to focus on a burgeoning animation career, while Gwen's seven year relationship with bassist, Tony Kanal, came to an end.

No Doubt refused to be finished, however, and, after holding on to their Madness/Fishbone-inspired roots, they redefined themselves, and, over the next three years, and via 11 different recording studios, they found their original voice in their breakthrough album, Tragic Kingdom.

The album's heartbreak lyrical focus (it spawned the timeless single, Don't Speak), coupled with its sprightly pop/punk/reggae/80s-retro musical mix helped it to find a huge listener base, with several singles topping the charts in the US.

But fame also had its price, as Stefani was lauded as a platinum blonde beauty and thrust into the spotlight at the expense of the other band members.

As editors and photographers honed in on Gwen, the resulting media frenzy shook the foundations of the group.

Guitarist, Tom Dumont, bassist, Tony Kanal, and drummer, Adrian Young, found themselves swept aside on the torrent of success.

As a result, sessions for Tragic Kingdom's follow-up, Return of Saturn, were muddled and it took two years of almost constant songwriting before they found their way.

Return of Saturn failed to match the sales figures of Kingdom, yet far from being disappointed, the tension among the band members actually eased.

By its own admission, the band was humbled, and brought closer together, while Gwen contributed to a couple of soon-to-be-hits by Moby and Eve and a plan for the next phase was formulated.

As a result, their most free-spirited and adventurous work to date followed in 2001's Rock Steady, an album which incorporated numerous co-producers, from Prince, Nellee Hooper, Ric Ocasek, William Orbit and Sly and Robbie.

The album was another huge hit and spawned the singles Hey Baby and Hella Good.

The subsequent greatest hits compilation which has followed is the band's way of saying thank you to the fans who have stuck by them, from the early fans who dragged their friends out on a Monday night to see them at Fender's Ballroom, in Long Beach, California, to young teens making No Doubt their first concert.

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