46. No Doubt - Spiderwebs

There aren't too many bands that I can say that I liked them before they got really big.  I'm a fan of pop music (and rock, rap, metal, alternative, etc.) but it usually has to become somewhat popular before I hear it.  I'm not the one combing the indie charts trying to find the next big thing.  Occasionally, however, I hear a song by a band at the cusp of popularity (or even below it) and really like it, making me thirsty for more.  No Doubt was one of those bands.  Living in Los Angeles, I listened to all sorts of radio stations depending on my mood, but the world-famous KROQ was always at or near the top of my dial.  KROQ was instrumental in breaking all sorts of bands, from The Cure and Depeche Mode to No Doubt and The White Stripes.

It was on KROQ that I first heard No Doubt back in 1993.  The song was "Trapped in a Box" and it fascinated me.  First there was Gwen Stefani and her vocals.  Her trill that she did on her vocals totally caught me off guard.  The whole song did that for me.  It definitely had a ska feel to it but had metal and fusion elements as well.  Then it broke down into an insane ragtime bridge that completely blew my mind.  That piano, the roaring trombone and a motherf*ing banjo!  In a rock song!  A ska song!  A "whatever-the-hell-this-is" song!  Immediately I was hooked. 

So I was eagerly awaiting their next album, which turned out to be their breakout hit, Tragic Kingdom.  Although I really liked the first single, "Just a Girl," it was "Spiderwebs" that really impressed me.  The musical diversity of the album was a treat, and it's evidenced most prominently in "Spiderwebs."

Drummer Adrian Young starts it off with a nice little fill and then you immediately get the ska sound of the guitar and horns.  But then it transforms into a different sound with guitarist Tom Dumont playing a tweaked out guitar that sounds more rock than ska.  That's the thing with No Doubt.  You'll hear six different musical styles in the same song, often with different instruments playing different styles at the same time.  That's what makes them so fun to listen to (and listen to often).  There's always something new to hear and notice.

You can easily hear the influence not only of ska, but bands like The Cars and other new wave bands, plus some seriously strong rock tendencies as well.  It's a fusion that sounds like it would be a mess, but the unique combination blends flawlessly, creating the "No Doubt" sound.

The lyrics are as direct as they could possibly be.  The song's about a guy who really liked Gwen and got a hold of her phone number.  He called relentlessly, thinking his persistence would pay off with a relationship with Gwen.  As any sane guy will tell you, that's not the way to go about it.  Gwen sums it up best:

You think that we connect
That the chemistry's correct
You words walk right through my ears
Presuming I like what I hear 

Yet she doesn't want to destroy his ego, so she just hopes he'll get the message with her lack of response:

You take advantage of what's mine
You're taking up my time
Don't have the courage inside me
To tell you please just let me be 

I like that she takes responsibility for the fact that if she can't tell him the truth.  Like so many women, they don't want to hurt our feelings, but they also want us to just go away.  With a guy like this, though, I doubt candor would have deterred him.  So Gwen is stuck getting endless phone calls from a guy who just doesn't get it.

And it's all your fault
I screen my phone calls
No matter who calls
I gotta screen my phone calls

The bridge is a musical and lyrical dream state.  Gwen's finally been able to drift off to a listless sleep, but her dreams are now invaded by the unwanted phone calls.  The tempo slows, Tom's rhythm guitar echoes ethereally while his lead phases in and out, adding to the disorientation.  Bassist Tony Kanal and Adrian add a pulsing rhythm that represents the relentless intrusion into Gwen's dreams.   There are tempo changes throughout the song, with this dream sequence being the most pronounced.  It ends with a build-up that leads to that frantic chorus.

Gwen Stefani really came into her own as a lyricist on Tragic Kingdom and it shows.  Strong lyrical images abound on the album, especially with "Spiderwebs," "Just a Girl," and the huger than huge smash hit "Don't Speak."  Tragic Kingdom took No Doubt to the level of popularity and stardom that the music deserved, but I have to admit that there was a bit of jealously on my part that the band that I really liked became the band that everybody liked, and for the first time, I could empathize with my brother, Scott, who usually lost interest when a band became popular because they were no longer his band.  But unlike Scott, I continued to enjoy the band after they became popular and longingly await a new No Doubt album.  So hop on it, guys, we're waiting....

I'm going to do two videos here since I mentioned "Trapped in a Box" in my intro.  So here's "Spiderwebs" and "Trapped in a Box," for your enjoyment.

(Fun Fact #533:  In the video for "Spiderwebs," you may have noticed Japanese characters on the screen.  It's not some weird Youtube thing - they're supposed to be there.  They all relate to this party and translate to:  "Excellent party", "I really like cake a lot", "What is your name?", "This is excellent champagne", "What is this? Crazy kids", "It's making me sick".)
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