After 7 years, Shirley Manson and Garbage are back, and better than ever
Upon hearing Not Your Kind of People, the long-awaited fifth album from Garbage, my inclination was to recreate Meg Ryan’s orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. Finally! Garbage returns to deliver the goods in abundance on their first disc in seven years. They didn’t miss a beat, smashing together a tremendous package.
Seven years is a long hiatus, but Garbage still rocks hard recalling the band’s earlier work, yet balanced with an embrace of accessible pop. Like Green Day, they can cut an attractive hook against an abrasive landscape.
The album explodes with urgency in opener “Automatic Systematic Habit.” Vaulting from 0-to-60, “Habit” quickly reminds us why Garbage is worth loving. Already powerful with its pounding beats and heavy guitars, Shirley Manson brings her vocal touch to complete the picture. I couldn’t decide whether to dance or bang my head.
The delicate opening on the second track, “Big Bright World,” is more akin to restraining a growling dog. The band unleashes an onslaught that takes you back to Garbage’s rawness of their self-titled 1995 debut. They display the same early energy but with wiser perspectives pushing them forward. In these first tracks, including “Blood for Poppies,” Garbage doesn’t draw you in, they push you into their abyss of sound, swirling with the force of a nuclear bomb.
As a singer, Manson is no diva. While steadfast, you don’t expect a broad range from her. But she doesn’t coddle you with her voice — either she’s seducing you on the tempered title track or bullying you on songs like “Control.” And like the passive school kid with a crush on said bully, you let her get away with it.
“I Hate Love” is reckless from its dark title to its uptempo beat. Manson’s voice gets swallowed in the layers of noise around it, but with this monstrous sound, it’s fine to relegate her to the background this time. The same begins to happen in the satisfying “Battle in Me.” She starts to disappear amid the loudness and high-pitched guitars, but producer Butch Vig (Green Day, Foo Fighters) delivers a clean sound.
These second-half tracks level the album out, but don’t mistake that for letting up. The energy remains at maximum levels. Where Garbage loudly announced their return in opening tracks, they find a balance in the second half.
Sandwiched between those two heavies is “Sugar,” recalling their stalker love ballad, “#1 Crush.” The song aches for a misconstrued sort of love that relies on tragic foundations when she sings Please reconsider / I don’t need much on my plate / Just give me sugar. Manson simmers with pain and longing under a sultry prowess.
The final cut, “Beloved Freak,” is an ironic shocker, a lovely ending to such a hard album. This softer side works with the spirit of the album though times sounds ready-made for a new It Gets Better campaign.
Four extra tracks fill the special edition, starting with “The One” and “What Girls are Made Of.” Both play like disappointing B-sides. “Bright Tonight” echoes the delicacy of “Freak.” The guitars pluck with elegance and the languid mood relays a truth playing like a Best Coast tune in low-fi glory. “Show Me” swells into a hell of a closing tune that successfully wraps the extras, but overall they feel like an afterthought.
Not Your Kind of People is less a comeback than a reminder. Garbage came on the scene with a specific energy that was theirs alone, then wandered on subsequent discs. Now, they’ve found their way back — a little older, a little wiser and a whole lot better.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 1, 2012.