Release Date: May 22, 2012
Record label: Stunvolume
Genre(s): Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Dance, Dance-Rock
Shirley Manson is an avenger. Since Garbage emerged in 1995, their albums have mixed aggressive digital rock with the lashings Manson gives to liars, conformists and other villains. She's a red-haired sister of vampire-slaying Buffy Summers, another Nineties heroine. The first new Garbage album in seven years is like a film sequel where familiar characters haven't changed much – especially Manson,who still cherishes the wary alertness of adolescence.
It's 18 years since Nirvana producer Butch Vig and his Wisconsin cohorts recruited marketably mouthy Scot Shirley Manson and become one of the world's most successful groups, before label trouble and acrimony triggered a long hiatus. Their first album since 2005 returns to the blueprint of their first two, best albums, the major change being fewer electronics, more fuzzy guitars and production aimed at the Gaga generation. When the processed beats are at their most frenetic – as on opener Automatic Systematic Habit – they sound as if they're trying too hard to throw their hat back into a pop ring stuffed with younger pretenders Manson herself inspired.
Garbage’s 1998 album Version 2.0 was so far ahead of its time that its vision of the future — wherein sexy pop robots are built from the grimiest gizmos in the rocktronica junkyard — still has yet to arrive. In the seven years since the band last put out an album, somebody must have recalibrated their flux capacitor; singer Shirley Manson’s sultry bluster on late-’80s industrial chugger ”Man on a Wire” is electric, and Not Your Kind of People‘s title track deftly threads blues licks through a ’60s psychedelic needle. But too often the tomorrow-is-now thrills are missing here.
Despite all appearances to the contrary, Garbage spent only eight years on an indefinite hiatus -- it only seemed like they spent over a decade wandering in the pop hinterlands. Granted, Garbage fostered this impression, presenting their 2012 album Not Your Kind of People as a grand comeback, inviting comparisons to their earlier work and happily riding the burgeoning '90s revival of the 2010s. Unlike their two W administration-era albums, there is no grappling with new sounds and styles, only an embrace of the thick aural onslaught of "Stupid Girl" and "Vow." Garbage have homed in on their essence and are unafraid to revive memories of their past glories.
In the drought since their last full-length album Bleed Like Me was released in 2005, Garbage has left fans reeling from quite a seven-year itch. It's not that the members (Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker) had gone into creative hibernation-Vig was busy producing, taking home a Grammy for Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown; Manson was acting out with a leading role in the short-lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles when not working on her yet-to-be-released solo album; and the band itself released a greatest hits compilation Absolute Garbage in 2007 to quell the pressure for new music amid an indefinite hiatus. Thankfully, that would end in 2010, when rumored studio liaisons laid the groundwork for the band's fifth (and first self-released) album Not Your Kind of People.
I don't know how long it's been since you've listened to Garbage's best and biggest albums, but there's a good chance that 1995's self-titled debut and 1998's Version 2.0 are more brutal than you remember. The former is all sneering, lapsed-Catholic angst (on "Vow", a scorned Shirley Manson compares herself to "Jesus Christ coming back from the dead" and utters the words like they're curdling in her mouth) and dark sensuality ("This is what he pays me for," she breathes on the early single "Queer", "I'll show you how it's done"). Version 2.0 focused even more on internal demons: There's the forlorn "Medication", the asphyxial trip-hop of "Hammering in My Head", and the feel-good anxiety disorder anthem of the 90s, "I Think I'm Paranoid".
Shirley Manson has said that one of the reasons Garbage reunited is that no one has stepped into the unique niche they filled in the late ‘90s. It’s not an entirely accurate assessment of the current state of pop music (the band’s influence is all over everything from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz! and Ke$ha’s artless Top 40 sleaze to Das Racist’s shameless approach to pilfering from junk culture), but it at least gives Garbage’s new album, Not Your Kind of People, a sense of purpose that many “comeback” albums lack. Drive alone can only carry the band so far, though, and Not Your Kind of People adheres so doggedly to formula that it often sounds dated.
Singer Shirley Manson has been talking up the band's outsider status but it's always existed more in their minds than anyone else's. Their seven-year absence followed a split from Warner Bros whom they decried as too sales-focused, yet their self-released comeback is hardly wild experimentation. Electro-charged grunge and ambient pop are their default settings and there's plenty of both here: Big Bright World's crunchy hooks make a convincing bid for radio ubiquity, Sugar finds Manson cosying up to glowering synths.
Remember the 90s? Remember the Sega v. Nintendo console war, Hal Hartley movies and when The Simpsons was still the most flawless, peerless show on TV? Remember Garbage's self-titled debut album and the "It's by the guy who produced Nevermind" chatter that surrounded it? No doubt that description garnered the fledgling act a fair amount of interest (and record sales), but it was, in fact, rather a case of an album being mis-sold. Despite the bigging up of the grunge links, Garbage were essentially a pop band, just with a dash of rugged guitar and a twist of bubble-gum spikiness, and were all the better for it.
At some point in the past decade, a vicious backlash started over reviews that dared to reference the back catalogue of an artist in a comparative sense. It seems as if people believe that every new album functions as a completely desolate and solitary work devoid of history or popular consumption. This backlash almost requires that reviewers become amnesiacs.
You always get the impression that while they could never entirely decide what sort of band they wanted to be, Garbage were essentially a melodramatic pop group who the industry tried to make more heavyweight by mentioning 'Nirvana producer' lots and dressing in black. But after that (still very good) debut album, they broke free of those trappings, with each subsequent record getting slicker and more easy to digest. After four albums and a hiatus or two, Not Your Kind of People arrives.
The prospect of Shirley Manson singing “This Little Light of Mine” certainly has wicked potential. The Garbage frontwoman folds that child’s hymn into the final minutes of “Beloved Freak,” the last song on Not Your Kind of People, the band’s fifth album and first in seven years. Rising out of post-Lilith Fair ‘90s alt-rock, the Scottish singer/songwriter brought an outlandish sensibility to that decade’s girl power movement, building on the edgier breakthroughs on Liz Phair and PJ Harvey.
GARBAGE play the Phoenix on Monday (May 28). See listing. Rating: NN A band made up almost entirely of studio wizards (including Nevermind producer Butch Vig), Garbage have always sounded overproduced. Back from a seven-year hiatus and now far removed from the "alt-rock" zeitgeist of the late 90s, the post-grunge survivors sound even more like a straight-up pop act, albeit one with a retro flavour.
Ignore all the dark, grungy, essentially ’90s alt-rock entrapments, and Garbage’s blend of fuzzy guitars, slick production, and powerful female vocals embodies late ’90s pop boiled down to its essentials. The angst and aggression in the lyrics of “Only Happy When It Rains” or “Stupid Girl”, the edgy clothes, the distortion on the guitars: It’s all exactly what was marketable at the time. There’s just enough dark cloud to satisfy those curious about the dark edge and just enough pop familiarity to hit the radio big.
It’s fair to say that Garbage have been pissed on, literally and figuratively, in the seven years since their last album, ‘Bleed Like Me’. Yep, after a stint as a cyborg with the ability to morph into, er, urinals in a Terminator TV spin-off, Shirley Manson found her newly reunited band couldn’t get a record deal – so they’ve entered their ‘plough our own cash into self-releasing records to an ever-dwindling fanbase’ phase. Is it worth them bothering? Sadly, probably not.
Shirley Manson and the guys (Well, the illustrious Butch Vig, and Duke Erikson and Steve Marker) have rebooted after a 7-year break with Not Your Kind Of People. Released in May on their own record label STUNVOLUME, it plays like ‘Garbage Version 3.0’ with songs that recall, but still hold their own against, the band’s self-titled debut and sophomore album Version 2.0. All of the pop-coated rock that was immediately catchy, aggressive, melodic, seductive, melancholic, and driven from those two albums can be found here – from the ramped up, unrelenting beats to the bright electronics and propulsive guitar lines, to Shirley’s changeable, ever-engaging vocals.
Quartet’s comeback ticks many of the same boxes as previous successful LPs. Tom Hocknell 2012 Formed in 1994, Garbage delivered consistently anthemic electronic rock that occupied airwaves with conspicuous ease in the mid-to-late-90s. The singles Special, Queer and Stupid Girl brought phenomenal success, though they never quite shrugged the impression that they were Butch Vig’s (producer of Nevermind) band of session musicians, despite singer Shirley Manson looking the very epitome of a pop icon.