Return of Saturn is an almost defiantly mature record about two things: Stefani's exploration of a troubled romance and her own romantic ideals, plus a serious attempt by the group to not only keep new wave alive, but to make that adolescent music relevant to an older audience. It's a high concept, but Return of Saturn is filled with satisfying contradictions. It's melodic, but deceptively complex; it can seem frothy, but it's never frivolous. No Doubt's desire to expand the emotional template of new wave is the perfect match for Stefani's themes -- she may be writing about love, but she's not writing adolescent love songs. Fragments of her teenaged romantic fantasies remain, but she's writing as a woman in her late 20s. She's tired of being another "ex-girlfriend" -- she wants to fall in love, get married, and have a family. It's a subject that's surprisingly uncommon in pop music, which would alone make Return of Saturn an interesting album. What makes it a successful one is that the band delivers an aural equivalent of Stefani's lyrical themes. They also begin with their adolescent musical ideals, adding depth and detail to their pop-ska foundation. They balance their non-ironic love of new wave with contemporary production and a sensibility borrowed from classic rock: that albums are greater than the sum of their parts. Surprisingly, they pull it off -- it's a far stronger record than Tragic Kingdom, even if the catchiest numbers don't have the same swagger and punch as their previous hit singles. So be it. With Return of Saturn, No Doubt have made a terrific, layered record that exceeds any expectations set by Tragic Kingdom. Not only have they found their voice, they know what to do with it.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine