photo & text by nacrowe
its crazy that arguably the biggest band to ever come out of ORANGE COUNTY got big right after my family permanently left the area. TRAGIC KINGDOM (INTERSCOPE, 1995) by NO DOUBT was released the same month in late 1995 when we departed SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA for NIGERIA. cant even stress how much a culture shock that was. in the intervening years i have traveled (a lot) and been in countless crazy situations, but nothing really compares to arriving in LAGOS that first time more than 25 years ago.
in ORANGE COUNTY we lived in BREA, which was due east to where my father worked in neighboring LA HABRA which is part of LOS ANGELES COUNTY. to BREA's immediate south is FULLERTON (home of SOCIAL DISTORTION and FENDER GUITARS) and due south from there is ANAHEIM. in fact, my brother was born in the same FULLERTON hospital as GWEN STEFANI. ANAHEIM of course is home to DISNEYLAND and from my parent's house i could see the fireworks in the distance from their seasonal nightly displays. growing up i practically lived at DISNEYLAND, so the little nuggets such as the MATTERHORN's warning embedded in the beginning of the song "TRAGIC KINGDOM" was never lost on me.
the whole send up of THE MAGIC KINGDOM makes total sense, as well as the artwork that references the branding of vintage orange boxes that you can find in my friends' grandparents antique collections. when i heard the record the first i was in LAGOS and it was really the first time i had an intense case of homesickness for SOUTHERN CALFORNIA. i thought it was so cool that a local band, like THE OFFSPRING beforehand, had made it big. so huge that i found the record randomly at a local store run by a BRITISH expat (this was pre-internet).
as an album this record slays. my favorite is easily "SUNDAY MORNING." i still listen to that song to this day to get my spirits up. its a traditional sunny sunny pop song with a great melody and an ingenious music video of GWEN going to the store and buying groceries for a summer picnic with the band eating spaghetti. sounds horrible but it really gives the band a sense of grounding in reality, like a 90s version of BLONDIE with a heavy dose of MADNESS and 2 TONE SKA thrown in the mix.
"JUST A GIRL," "SPIDERWEBS" and "EXCUSE ME MR." are just great pop songs that feel like they were written by confident musicians unafraid to thrown in a healthy mix of sonic textures that reference everything from 60s PSYCHEDELIA to SURF MUSIC. its a band fully aware of their cultural heritage as residents of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. its hard to understate the impact of "JUST A GIRL" on empowering women to become musicians. it may be the most consequential song they ever released.
before this album the songwriting was heavily influenced by founding member ERIC STEFANI who left shortly before record TRAGIC KINGDOM to become an animator on THE SIMPSONS. previous recordings were much more SKA based and derivative in comparison. TRAGIC KINGDOM saw them come together as songwriters. subsequent albums found the band searching for an identity, which seems to be a common thread in the lyrics of GWEN STEFANI both within NO DOUBT and her solo work. when TRAGIC KINGDOM came out it was right in the middle of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion and its optimistic disposition and sunny vibes as the antithesis of the SEATTLE scene. i was surprised that they followed suit with the gloomier RETURN OF SATURN (INTERSCOPE, 2000), before recapturing and updating their DANCEHALL-influenced sound on ROCK STEADY (INTERSCOPE, 2001) and PUSH AND SHOVE (INTERSCOPE, 2012).
regardless, TRAGIC KINGDOM is a classic pop record worthy of further investigation and still an immensely enjoyable listen.