Release Date: Jun 10, 2016
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Well, this is unexpected. Their last album, 2012’s Not Your Kind Of People, was a tepid reward for fans’ seven-year wait, and half of the band are now in their 60s. And yet, more than two decades after their self-titled debut kicked its way into every alternative record collection, not to mention the charts, Garbage have produced an album that recreates its passion and its spirit.
Some important noises on Garbage’s sixth album, ranked, ascendingly: the whispery wobble in the deep background of “If I Lost You,” the strobe effect that gradually overcomes “So We Can Stay Alive,” the liquid-metal guitar that keeps boiling up between the verses of “Empty,” and — best of all — the electromagnetic buzz, a speaker cone’s death-rattle, that illustrates “Magnetized. ” The quickest way of ensuring that Strange Little Birds is better than any other Garbage album this millennium is to promise that at least one of these — or a selection of your own — belongs alongside the lurching, stop-and-start guitar from “Supervixen,” or the menacing skitter of “Hammering in My Head,” on a list of the best noises this band has produced so far. Like Veruca Salt’s Ghost Notes, Weezer’s “White” album, or The People vs.
Considering that they began roughly 25 years ago, Los Angeles quartet Garbage deserves applause simply for sticking around this long. After all, the band was among the most distinctive and popular acts of the early ‘90s alternative rock scene, and, save for a brief hiatus or two, it’s maintained an impressive amount of ambition and productivity ever since. Rather than fade away and/or sell out (like many of their contemporaries have), the foursome—which, as always, includes Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig—continuously stays true to their core identity while also retooling certain elements to align with the current sonic zeitgeist.
Garbage made their comeback in 2012, returning to action after a seven-year hiatus with Not Your Kind of People. Strange Little Birds arrived four years later -- a gap that's just over half the length of their hiatus -- and it plays as a continuation of its predecessor, a record that draws a conscious bridge to the band's '90s heyday. If Garbage are no longer opting in with new trends, they're also not grasping at elusive straws from the past: Strange Little Birds is a comfortable record, an album from a band that embraces its signatures and limitations.
Shirley Manson wastes no time setting the tone for Garbage's sixth album, Strange Little Birds: “Sometimes I'd rather take a beating…I learn more when I am bleeding,” she sings—no, deadpans—on the industrial-rock opener “Sometimes.” The singer has lamented the absence of darkness and vulnerability in pop music of late, which may explain why the album lacks both a sense of humor and a sense of fun—two things that made Garbage's early work stand out in the post-grunge modern-rock landscape of the mid 1990s. Manson has likened Strange Little Birds to the group's self-titled debut, but it quickly becomes clear that the comparison is one of spirit, not sound. Indeed, what the album lacks in cheeky wit, it makes up for in grit.
Back in 1995, Garbage’s self-titled debut captured the zeitgeist perfectly. When American producers Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Nirvana producer Butch Vig invited flame-haired vixen Shirley Manson to join their band, they hit on a winning formula taking the tail-end of grunge and heyday of Britpop and supercharging it with heavy electronica and super-sexed angst. To this date it’s their finest moment.
Garbage would sooner risk obsolescence than fake a smile. The industry learned this the hard way in 2001 when they tried to steer the band back to the mainstream following the commercial failure of their third record Beautiful Garbage, released three weeks after 9/11. Hoping for a smooth transition onto the pop-and-rap-glutted charts, label executives approached frontwoman Shirley Manson and producers-slash-bandmates Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig demanding rapped guest verses and pop hooks.
Scottish-born Shirley Manson and her band of epic Wisconsinites, Garbage, are likely hiding in your playlists, somewhere. You might even have 1998’s Version 2.0 on cassette, buried deep in a cache of relics that will be dug through during existential quarterlife crises. Also, if you’re like me, you will remember gothing out and rocking to “Stupid Girl”, “Push It”, and more, meditating to the chaos of their music videos in an era predating YouTube.
The sixth Garbage album could've been released in 1995. Yet it's still totally relevant; singer Shirley Manson's brooding edge and producer-drummer Butch Vig's mix of sheer guitar buzz and moody industrial texture stake their claim as forebears to artists like Sky Ferreira and even Lana Del Rey. Manson plays the coolly mysterious alt-rock diva, raging against her demons on knotty anthems like "Empty" and "We Never Tell," and on bleary creepers like "Night Drive Loneliness." The left-field pop of Nineties hits like "#1 Crush" has been pulled back, but that's fine.
Back to the sumptuous sex dungeon with Mistress Manson. Garbage always seemed so brazenly plastic during the authenticity gold rush of grunge, but their glossy slickness has proved to be as much saving grace as fatal flaw.. ADVERTISING inRead invented by Teads.
Indie music fandom 101 tells us that commercial success is overrated. Strange Little Birds, Garbage's first album in four years since Not Your Kind of People, though, is the lowest-charting of their career and perhaps this is telling: for it does feel like their least essential..
Four years on from their last studio album (and a year on from the twentieth anniversary re-release of their self-titled debut, in case you’d forgotten who they were), Garbage have come out with another new record. Entitled Strange Little Birds, the band have described it variously as 'keeping it fresh' and as having 'the most to do with the first record than any of the previous records'. This indecision with regards to what era it is for them is, unfortunately, audible on the album.
It’s 21 years since the release of Garbage, a treasure chest of irresistibly schlocky, digitally warped pop-grunge manifestos for the defiantly damaged. Singer Shirley Manson has claimed this sixth album is a kindred spirit to that debut, but instead it encapsulates the problem for reforming 1990s bands: you can’t go back, and going forward is even harder. Garbage’s sound is a tricky reupholstering job, their brand of angst period-passe, and Strange Little Birds searches sluggishly for the right tone, dreamy moments of trip-hop slink and flickers of brutal noise offering only fleeting hope.
Vocalist Shirley Manson says Garbage’s sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds, is “less fussed over” than any of the quartet’s records to date. This isn’t a code word for sloppy—that would never fly with the band members’ production and mixing backgrounds—but her assessment does describe the record’s airy arrangements and light sonic touches. Unlike 2012’s Not Your Kind Of People, which was all sharp angles and a marbled sheen, Strange Little Birds is atmospheric and meditative.
Last year, Garbage celebrated the 20th anniversary of their self-titled debut album. The timing was impeccable – pop culture’s ever rotating wheel of influence had already spun back to the ’90s post-grunge scene that birthed them – but it raised the question. What does a veteran band do when a new crop of exciting artists, like Wolf Alice and Black Honey, are mining your back catalogue for inspiration, whether that’s Garbage’s multimillion-selling debut or guitarist Butch Vig’s instrumental work in producing Nirvana’s era-defining second album ‘Nevermind’.
After an ill-advised foray into overproduced dance rock on 2012’s “Not Your Kind of People,” Garbage returns to its original pop-grunge formula on “Strange Little Birds” — but darkly. Rather than poking fun at her own sadness or anger, singer Shirley Manson drones about self-doubt over some of the creepiest synth sounds the band has employed to date. Lead single “Empty” initially sounds like one more tongue in cheek track that fits in with previous hits, but Manson’s showing vulnerability (“I’ve been feeling so frustrated/ I’ll never be as great as I want to be”); sawing synths on the chorus suit the album’s morose soundscape.
What is the point of aging if you never grow up? Two decades ago, Garbage released its first album full of jagged, mottled, searing pop-rock, a refreshing post-grunge wake-up. For a while, it continued apace with its tense approach but faded over time, as anger inevitably does. After a hiatus, Garbage is back to releasing albums semi-regularly — the new “Strange Little Birds” is the band’s second album since 2012 — and admirably, it has stuck by its vision.