Garbage ‘Strange Little Birds’ Review: veteran alt-rockers return with their best album since 2001’s ‘Beautiful Garbage.’
If generic 21st century pop depresses you, Shirley Manson feels your pain. The Garbage vocalist expressed her frustration with modern music in the press statement for the band’s new album Strange Little Birds:
“I’m aching for some dark and dismal. Because I feel like the musical landscape of late has been incredibly happy and shiny and poppy. Everybody’s fronting all the time, dancing as fast as they can, smiling as hard as they can, working on their brand.”
And the group’s penchant for enchanting darkness is in full display on the band’s new album, their most consistent and compelling effort since 2001’s Beautiful Garbage.
Things kick off with the skeletal, skittering Sometimes, a dark industrial stunner, with Manson crooning at her wounded warrior best: “Sometimes I’d rather take a beating…I learn more when I am bleeding.”
That song’s stripped down sound informs the entire album, which is as raw as a group containing three perfectionist rock producers can be, with just enough hard candy shell to polish its jagged landscape.
The album’s first single Empty, is a tried and true Garbage rocker, full of pulsating shoegaze guitars and Manson at her most strident, propelled by producer Butch Vig’s pounding back beat.
A true highlight is the dusky, atmospheric Blackout, which kicks off with a mournful Cure-esque bass-line and wailing guitars before hitting a slamming chorus à la Happy As It Rains from the group’s self-titled 1995 début.
The band performed that album in full on last year’s 20 Years Queer tour, and its youthful vigor has injected itself into the proceedings, its musical connective tissue apparent on songs like the dance floor banger Magnetized or the glitter-stomp of So We Can Stay Alive. And Manson’s voice is as full-bodied as ever, from soulful belting to seductive coos.
Likewise, Night Drive Loneliness evokes their doomed lover B-side Number 1 Crush, but Manson now older and wiser, is given to reflection over melodramatic proclamations: “Of all the stupid/things that I’ve said/there’s one thing I regret/in the moment that I said it, I wanted to kill it/ I still feel sick about it.”
Speaking of lyrics, Birds contains Manson’s most intimate wordplay to date, as she revealed in a recent interview: “There are things in my life that I’ve always wanted to talk about…so going into this record, I wanted to be vulnerable.”
Even Though Our Love Is Doomed, the album’s best track, is a shining example of her new vocal candor: an anthem that starts slow and builds big, with Manson digging in her heels for an emotional chorus: “Even though our love is doomed, you’re the only thing worth dying for, you’re the only thing worth fighting for.”
This sentiment extends to album closer Amends, a Trip-hop torch song that acts as both breakup song and self-examination:
“There is nothing you could say
To cause more hurt, or cause me shame
Than all the things that I have thought
After two scattershot albums, Strange Little Birds is a striking return to form. Garbage refuse to bow to current trends, content to redefine their signature sound in new and interesting shapes. And as their latest proves, it remains a formula with endless possibilities.