When Garbage announced a hiatus after the release of 2005’s Bleed Like Me, I was equal parts devastated and relieved. While I had come to feel that the band was burned out and needed time to seek out fresh inspiration and perspective, the word hiatus often translates into “broken up forever”, something I couldn’t bear to see happen to one of the most influential and innovative bands on my list of musical loves. The promise of Shirley Manson’s solo album buoyed me, but when it didn’t surface, it was incredibly disappointing.
The news of Garbage reuniting and hitting the studio was the equivalent of a Pixi-Stix binge for me: I bounced up and down and impatiently awaited news/clips/anything to solidify the venture and give it concreteness. It must be understood that Garbage is on the short list of bands whose music saved my life in my darkest hours, hence the unabashed fangirl reaction. It has been months of teasers and stellar singles, but at last, I have the entire disc in hand (standard edition) and I can finally answer the question on anyone’s mind:
Do Garbage still have what made them trailblazers in the 90s?
Happily, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. While it’s crucial to note that the band explicitly set out not to evolve but rather return to their roots, this doesn’t make the endeavor unimpressive. The Garbage sound still holds up as ever, pushing grunge and pop into a fusion dashed with electronic play. Mercifully, the album steers away from hit-and-miss album Beautiful Garbage‘s overly saccharine zone, returning instead to their self-titled debut with the informed restraint of Bleed Like Me. The result is a solid album that fits well within the catalogue, and while it may not outshine Garbage or Version 2.0, it holds its own quite nicely with its older musical siblings. It also soars and pulses with that irresistible vibe of the “perfect roadtrip album”, making it a great choice for a late Spring/Summer release. The mixing leaves a little to be desired in places, however, which pulls the album away from perfection.
Without further preamble, then, a track-by-track look at Not Your Kind Of People:
Automatic Systematic Habit: Garbage tends to choose well when settling on an album opener, and ASH is no exception. Winding up with what feels like a radio tuning in to the band’s frequency, the album launches with a coy condemnation of a lover who refuses to commit, playing women ‘like a habit’. “I won’t be your dirty little secret,” Shirley taunts over a pulsing, frenetic beat meant for driving with the windows open at high speed. It evokes a sense of the aftermath of “Temptation Waits”, where the once-addict to his ways is tossing aside the bad boy and calling his bluff. Not mind-blowing or genre-shattering, but classic, wonderful Garbage.
Big Bright World: There’s a strong kinship to Version 2.0 here. BBW evokes “Special” sonically, and I would easily believe it to be a lost track from the era if I didn’t know better. I’m not sure I like the track sequencing here: while instrumentally, BBW fits well after ASH, the lyrics clash horribly. This is a sweeping tale of love, and it’s a little jarring. Easily remedied with my usual shuffle-always approach to music, I suppose, but it should have been thought of. Joyful, bombastic and lives up to Shirley’s challenge to “rage against the dying light”.
Blood For Poppies: I took a look at this track when the single dropped, but now that I’ve had a ton of time to absorb it, I have to say that it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album. It solidifies for me that this album is made for summer driving or road tripping: BFP is light, airy and yet full of the crunchy guitar riffs that made the band memorable in their heyday. One complaint I have about this album, and it’s an issue apparent in the last two tracks, is the mixing: Shirley’s vocals are a little buried beneath the distortion and electronics, and it’s a shame to mask such a gorgeous voice. Many comparisons have been made between “Shut Your Mouth” and this one, but I don’t see it at all. I hear more of “Not My Idea” softened and slowed. Either way, it’s a strangely upbeat song given the lyrics of insanity and drug trafficking origin. Last thought: this tune and BBW should be flipped for a smoother sequence.
Control: Oh my God, this is pure sex. Sonic Tupelo honey with the gritty seething anger Shirley conjures so well makes for a stunner of tune. There’s a true sense of madness here, a journey down a very bad rabbit hole, hurtling towards the bottom without a hope in hell of survival. “Drown us with the burdens of our sins/Maybe I’ll look you in the eye, tell you, ‘You don’t want to die’/Maybe I’ll hold my breath and jump right in.” These are some of the best lyrics the band’s ever delivered, and I will be playing this one repeatedly in days to come. For anyone concerned that the darkness of their earlier work was long gone, fear not: it’s here. Come lose control.
Not Your Kind Of People: A slow, meandering melody carries us into the album’s namesake, and I confess that I’m a little bored by this tune. This one’s b-side material at best: the lyrics are immature and Smashing Pumpkins captured this sort of vibe better in their track “We Only Come Out At Night”. Were this an instrumental piece, I feel it might work better, and perhaps Shirley forced lyrics onto this one to fit a sprawling melody no one wished to discard. This almost encroaches into M83 or Explosions In The Sky Territory, or perhaps Stars, if the words are set aside. Passable, but brought down by the attempt at an anthem for the band and their ‘darklings’.
Felt: If the previous track was encroaching into M83, this one dives straight in and brings a little riff for the ride. The vocals are drowning in ethereal effects in a way that reminds me of “As Heaven Is Wide”, only it’s sadly taken into overkill. I can scarcely tell what Shirley’s saying for half the song, which is incredibly problematic for a more cerebral listener like myself. It evokes the recoil reaction I had to many Beautiful Garbage tracks, and is unfortunately a lowlight on the album in spite of its breathy, light sound.
I Hate Love: Perhaps one of the most anticipated songs on the album after the preview snippet was released, IHL doesn’t disappoint. Moody and unrelentless, the loop in the transitions is addictive listening, the lyrics forlorn and bitter with disappointment and loss. If the band is wise, they’ll move to make this the next North American single; it will fare well in the current scene and is perfectly constructed from start to finish. It would also remix incredibly well for club settings: a little more bass, and perhaps a breakdown/cool down in the centre? “Innocent and open as any lamb and hoping for paradise…”
Sugar: Sinister, seductive strip-tease feel to this one, a grower track that doesn’t fully engage on first listen. The lyrics and Shirley’s vocal work make this one effective, combining the breathy pleas of “Milk” with the stalking feel of “#1 Crush”. The mixing on this track is far more palatable than other tracks: Shirley’s just the right volume, balanced like a cat on a ledge among the percussion and bass. Flows nicely out of IHL.
Battle In Me: The UK single that’s been spinning for a few weeks is next, with its punctuating riff-stops that evoke “Supervixen”, a tune that remains one of the band’s very best creations. Sexual magnetism churns and boils over in this track, complete with military-esque drums and shameless lyrics, making for a strong track that highlights the album. “Let’s take a torch to the past and the future/Let’s make out/I won’t tell your girlfriend.” Well Shirley, if you insist…
Man On A Wire: A brilliant, addictive riff that reminds me of the hip-grooving riff of Finger Eleven’s “Good Times” draws the listener to the full-out rocker chorus on this tune, inspired by the documentary Man On Wire, the tale of a man who tightrope walked illegally between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The song transcends into a “Screw the world, you can’t stop me” anthem to sing loudly with, a working-class battle cry against the powerful doubters looking down upon them. Delicious!
Beautiful Freak: Closing softly, as Garbage always does, the final track is a far more effective “different, and okay with that” vibe than the title track. For all of the reflective songs in their catalogue that capture isolation, loss and loneliness in an empathetic light, this one steps further into the light, reassuring and empowering the world’s “beautiful freaks”. “The world is at your feet,” Shirley insists, calling for letting lights shine, and one can’t help but smile. After all this time, it’s good to see a little confident joy peering out from the murky mists of Garbage’s domain.
Top Tracks: Automatic Systematic Habit; Blood For Poppies; Control; I Hate Love; Man On A Wire; Battle In Me
Not So Great: Not Your Kind Of People; Felt
Overall Rating: A