Just like the heavenly occasion which inspires its name, Return of Saturn, the latest album from Southern California rock band No Doubt, is best experienced with both feet firmly on the ground, and with eyes and ears held wide open.
The album's title refers to the notion that in the first 29 years of someone's life (the same time it takes the planet Saturn to orbit the Sun), a person is only beginning to understand himself or herself, which, singer and songwriter Gwen Stefani explains, helped her to discern her own place in life as she turned 30 years old. I wrote the song 'Artificial Sweetener', Gwen says, which has the line, 'the Return of Saturn, assessing my life, second guessing.' From the time you're born till the time Saturn returns to that point is a time of reassessment and a growing period, where you second-guess everything, and you clear out things that are going to be in the way of moving on in your life. I really did feel like I was going through a transitional phase in my life as I made this album. I think the name Return of Saturn is relevant in the sense that it shows how we've grown as a band, and as songwriters.
The culmination of two years of creative blood, sweat and tears for the quartet, Return of Saturn is a bold and exciting coming-of-age saga. An intimate view of the world as seen by a group of musicians and friends who watched their humble worlds turned literally upside-down by the unexpected (though well-deserved) success of No Doubt's third album, Tragic Kingdom. While that youthful recording reflects the concerns and observations of a band at the edge of possibility, Return of Saturn represents that same group looking collectively inward. What they saw and what they created those two years, will surprise and fascinate you. Who am I, and how did I get to this point in my life, when I thought I was going to be something completely different? -- that pretty much sums up the subject of this album, says Gwen.
Return of Saturn was recorded in two Los Angeles studios during 1998 and 1999. Twelve of the album's 13 songs were produced by Glen Ballard, (Alanis Morissette, Aerosmith), whose contribution was a key ingredient in the album's creation. In our band, everyone has such strong opinions that if you put the four of us in the room together you could have some troubles, says bassist Tony Kanal. But if you get somebody as experienced as Glen, not only as a producer but as a songwriter, you can bounce ideas off him and get some really cool objective answers, and it helps level the creative playing field.
One song on the album, New (also heard on the GO soundtrack) was produced by the band with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads, Live). It was fun to start with a clean slate and create something brand new, says guitarist Tom Dumont, who also wrote much of the album's music. We hadn't really done much writing on the road, so when it came time, we had to come up with the entire record. Every time we wrote a song it was like having a baby. It's such a good feeling to sit down with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder, and later to have created something really cool.
In light of the international success of Tragic Kingdom (more than 15 million copies sold worldwide, including over 11 million in the U.S.), the four band members were bound to be subject to any number of outside influences and pressures when it came time to make their follow-up.
But as it turned out, the band was able to turn any outside distraction to their ultimate benefit, beginning with pre-production and writing sessions at a rented Hollywood Hills house. I remember being in a very open, optimistic mood, says Tony, getting the house up in the hills, and just feeling like we had time to do it right. There was no deadline to deliver a record, so I remember not feeling pressure. It just felt like a good place to be, creatively.
Drummer Adrian Young agrees: We were just more conscious of the fact that we're following a huge record, and we need good songs, but I don't know what kind of album we wanted, or expected to make. It was very experimental most of the time. In fact, we didn't have any predisposition about it. That's always a good way for us to approach the music. We've always been across the board, stylistically, and I'm glad we didn't lose that part of the band, he says.
Songs on Return of Saturn like Marry Me, Simple Kind of Life and the album's first single Ex Girlfriend show vocalist Gwen Stefani in a reflective and unashamedly romantic mood, traits which she says are often overlooked in her hectic life. I think I am a romantic at heart, but my life in a lot of ways these days doesn't reflect that, she remarks. So I have this inner conflict about it, and this guilt about it. I'm very hopeful that someday those things will happen in my life, because it's all I've ever dreamed of. But right now it seems like my life doesn't have any room for it, and I won't make any room for it because I'm so passionate about what No Doubt is doing right now.
The music on each of No Doubt's three previous albums (1992's No Doubt, 1995's Beacon Street Incident, Tragic Kingdom) runs the stylistic gamut, mixing in as many influences as the band members can think of, and this collection is no different. Tom says the band has few rules when it comes to songwriting. We discovered a way to write on songs like Just a Girl and Spiderwebs and some of the older ones, which we incorporated when we started this album, and that was that there were no preconceived ideas at all. We would sit down in a room with a tape recorder and acoustic guitars and start improvising things. All the songs were written very spontaneously, starting from a blank slate every time.
The truth is, I feel like I've been turned inside-out after writing this album, adds Gwen. It's everything that I have been in the last two years, which have been really hard years for me. I just feet this sense of accomplishment, and this lightness has come over me since the album has been finished. It's so rewarding to be done and feel so proud of it, I can't wait for people to hear it.