Strange Little Birds
As soon as the plaintive minor-key piano and strings of opener Sometimes burst from the speaker, we get the impression Shirley Manson and her cohorts haven’t cheered up any since they first burst into the public consciousness with 1995’s multimillion-selling debut Garbage, and why should they? The band’s trademark passive/aggressive blend of grunge, trip hop, industrial and bombastic gothic rock won them plenty of friends in the 1990s, and it’s unlikely anyone buying this sixth studio album is looking for uplifting piano house.
The band have been somewhat off radar since being double Grammy-nominated for Version 2.0 in 1997. Although they have released three albums since, they have never quite enjoyed the same popular response. Beautiful Garbage, released in 2001, which perhaps should have been the album to put the Scottish-American quartet firmly up there with alternative rock’s big boys, was hit commercially by the cancellation of promotional work following the September 11 attacks. Subsequent albums were hampered by a combination of, reportedly, label-led (and admirably ignored) attempts to harness a more commercial sound following Beautiful Garbage’s relative failure, illnesses affecting both singer Manson and drummer/producer Butch Vig, and long periods of inactivity.
Now on their own Stunvolume label and a couple of Grammys in Vig’s cabinet for his production work with Green Day and Foo Fighters (he previously produced Nirvana’s Never Mind, among others), the band seem comfortable in their own skin again. Strange Little Birds sounds in many ways like a natural successor to Version 2.0, both musically and in terms of its recurring lyrical themes of doomed love, loneliness and isolation.
The brooding build-ups are unmistakably Garbage, though compared to the band’s 1990s heyday, when tunes were heavy on introspection and urgency, Strange Little Birds is a little light on shout-along choruses that made anthems of Paranoid or Happy When It Rains.
Fans will approve, however. From the Lush-esque guitar wall of Empty to the Marilyn Manson-inspired opening hook for Night Drive Loneliness and the industrial, filtered bass and hard rock riffage of So We Can Stay Alive, the influences are clear yet the sound remains their own.
Those already converted will be pleased to hear that the band are still resolutely ploughing their own electronic-rock furrow, though they may rue the lack of cathartic choruses that were once their stock in trade.
* Chris Newbould
Source: art & life