Ever since Garbage came out of the box in 1995, the band – boasting Scottish front woman Shirley Manson and oft-lauded producer Butch Vig on drums – has created edgy alternative rock by wedding techno and electronic influences with dance-y, trip-hop rhythms and smart, crunchy power pop melodic hooks. The unique, noisy mix of singles like “Stupid Girl,” “Queer,” “Only Happy When It Rains,” and “Push It,” proved Garbage a strong commercial contender in a world enamored with the heavier sounds of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. Over two decades later, the original quartet – also including Duke Erikson and Steve Marker – continues to exhibit a willingness to mix and mingle their various musical influences to create smart, engaging techno-pop that’s not afraid of a little noise and industrial to maintain the band’s rocky edge.
Five years after, Strange Little Birds (2016), this seventh studio album also skews toward darker, angry sentiments, this time addressing the power structures behind “The Men That Rule The World.” Manson’s lyrics challenge the greed, patriarchy and systematic racism at work in our political and social structures in the title track, “Waiting For God,” and “Godhead.” In “Anonymous XXX,” Manson plays with the fantasy of sex without relational expectations, while “A Woman Destroyed” attempts to flip the script of women abused by men when the woman threatens revenge. While the record addresses broader issues, Manson tends to see the political issues through a personal lens, with Garbage quite comfortable in its own skin.
“Wolves” is a retelling that old fable about two natures struggling for dominance, which finds the band in classic form, Manson concluding that “our god is a crazy kind of god.” The band plays with heavy, grinding noises, flirting with industrial, yet without losing that essential pop song structure. “The Creeps” recalls an angry, painful moment years back after Garbage was dropped from their major label deal, when Manson saw a record store display size poster of her band in the actual garbage. “Uncomfortably Me,” finds the often-confrontational singer dealing with feelings of insecurity, while “Flipping The Bird,” which Manson suggests was inspired by an conversation with Liz Phair, takes a more aggressive stance.
While Garbage has embraced industrial sounds here and there on this new one, suggesting comparisons to NIN and Depeche Mode, what we really hear at work throughout the 11 tracks of this fine collection of sounds and songs is a mature band displaying their musical strengths, yet still willing to push the envelope by trying on fresh, more aggressive sounds. While we were only able to review the regular version of “No Gods No Masters,” the deluxe version has 8 more tracks, including covers of Bowie’s song “Starman,” and Springsteen & Patti Smith’s “Because The Night,” and “Destroying Angels” is co-written and features Exene Cervenka of the band X. In the mid-90’s, Garbage felt like a timely and fresh distillation of some of the edgier aspects of the alternative rock landscape, nearly 25 years later they seem just as eager to dominate the unique sonic space they created, marking that territory with plenty of attitude and no shortage of strong songs.
Key Tracks: “The Men Who Ruled The World” / “Godhead” / “Wolves”
Artists With Similar Fire: Depeche Mode / PJ Harvey / Nine Inch Nails
Garbage Review History: Strange Little Birds (2016)
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb