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MUSIC REVIEWS: ‘90s stalwarts Green Day, No Doubt not slowed in middle age

- - Monday, September 24, 2012

¡Uno!

Green Day

Reprise

★★★½

After two albums of politically charged punk, Green Day bucks expectations by avoiding partisanship — during an election year, no less — on this collection of zippy, snot-nosed garage rockers.

"¡Uno!" has no overarching concept, no social commentary, nothing to root it in the present apart from its polished, modern production. If that sounds like a cop-out, consider this: Green Day hasn't sounded so carefree since "Dookie," and these songs are vacuum-packed with more hooks and savvy one-liners than a campaign speech.

It's the same sound that launched Green Day's career two decades ago, and the boys continue to do it well. The rhythm section moves forward at a furious gallop while Billie Joe Armstrong sings about subjects that don't exactly befit a 40-year-old family man — one-night stands, hedonism, beating up his enemies — with all the swagger of someone half his age. He hoots, sings and screams in equal measure, adding appropriate venom to tunes such as "Kill the DJ" and crooning the sugary chorus of "Fell For You" like some long-lost Beatle.

"¡Uno!" is the first in a trilogy of new albums, with the upcoming "¡Dos!" scheduled for a November release. That leaves listeners only seven weeks to enjoy this record, but that's all the time you need for these songs. There's nothing to unpack, nothing to mull over, no hidden metaphors that unveil themselves after repeated listens. "¡Uno!" delivers its payload immediately, proof that middle age hasn't sapped Green Day's ability to get right to the punky point.

Push and Shove

No Doubt

Interscope

★★★

The last time No Doubt released an album, Justin Bieber was 7 years old.

A lot can change in 11 years. On "Push and Shove," though, No Doubt slides back into the mainstream with ease, grafting hip, modern sounds onto an old-school foundation of reggae and pop music. Diplo makes a guest appearance, proof that the band's dance credibility hasn't waned over the past decade, while Gwen Stefani — now 42 years old, with two sons and a husband at home — bounces between genres like the young, caffeinated, California mall rat she once was. No Doubt may not be the newest kids on the block, but they don't sound past their prime, either.

The influences are easy to pick out. "Settle Down" takes a page from M.I.A. "Undone" apes Madonna. The dance-crazed title track, with its tempo changes and thudding percussion, owes a debt to deadmau5.

"Push and Shove" is more than a bid for re-admission into the inner circle of Top 40 music, though. The musicians know they're getting older — during "Looking Hot," Miss Stefani wonders how long she'll be able to squeeze into her tight stage clothes — and they dedicate the second half of the album to pretty, midtempo songs that show off the band's maturity. Those tunes are destined to be the forgotten tracks on an album that pushes its most marketable material to the front, but they also validate the very existence of "Push and Shove," showing that No Doubt can explore middle age while still courting a younger crowd.

Babel

Mumford & Sons

Glassnote

★★★

Mumford & Sons took control of the contemporary folk scene with "Sigh No More," a collection of Americana songs aimed at people who preferred Coldplay to Doc Watson. Three years later, the boys retrace their steps for "Babel," a sophomore album that feels less like its own record and more like a continuation of the band's debut.

For returning fans, "Babel" feels intimately familiar. Softly sung verses give way to stomping, anthemic choruses, all of which are howled by frontman Marcus Mumford and echoed in three-part harmony by his bandmates. Drums are pounded and acoustic guitars are strummed, creating a sort of bridge between the band's Appalachian influences and stadium-sized, pop-loving crowds.

"I Will Wait," the meteoric lead single, sounds like it belongs on "Sigh No More," as do most of the album's best songs. This isn't a reinvention of the Mumford sound; it's a replica, designed to pick up exactly where the previous album left off. Still, the band's updated take on old-school folk music sounds earnest and vigorous, and it's nice to see a band sticking to what it does best.