Album: Strange Little Birds
Genre: Alternative Rock
For most of us who remember Garbage from the 90s, their first two albums, Garbage and 2.0, are the definition of what we love about the band: Shirley Manson’s sultry yet haunting vocals, a backing band equal parts trip-hop, industrial, grunge, and a lot of the alternative rock that is very much associated with the time period. Their most enduring works like singles “Stupid Girl,” “Only Happy When It Rains,” “I Think I’m Paranoid,” “When I Grow Up,” “Special,” and “Push It” (among others) all had a keen pop sensibility. Subsequent albums Beautiful Garbage, Bleed Like Me, and Not Your Kind of People saw the band stretching out without quite dominating the airwaves like before.
Now, in 2016, what should fans expect from the long-running band? They had secured their ability to fill a live show with hits long ago and they really have nothing else to prove. Thankfully, that hasn’t stopped them from releasing their new album, Strange Little Birds.
“Sometimes” kicks the album off with an ominous, understated beat and vocal performance. Rather than being a wasted intro, this is a good lead-in to first single “Empty” which instantly recalls their early work, especially when its soaring chorus kicks in. Instead of being a regressive thing, this is a triumphant blend of their collective growth and a consolidation of their strengths.
Despite the increased emphasis on pop, this is a very dark album, both lyrically and in the mood the music establishes. The middle of the album seems to have this point in mind with “Night Drive Loneliness,” “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed,” and to a lesser extent, “If I Lost You.” We emerge from this with “Magnetized” a definite single-worthy synth-pop gem tucked away. Then comes “We Never Tell,” a huge banger and another highlight. If you listened to a lot of radio in the 90s, the vocal line in the chorus might stand out to you for sounding a little like “Dreams” by the Cranberries. This is a good thing.
It’s a shame that things end on “Teaching Little Fingers To Play” and “Amends,” two fairly minimalist tracks (though the latter does swell into something toward the end of its 6-minute-plus run-time). Anyone expecting a grandiose finale to the collection might be a little disappointed, but clearly a subdued third act was what the band had in mind.
Strange Little Birds is proof that a band can grow up without forgetting what got them this far. There is a lot here that belongs in their canon and will fit seamlessly in with the rest of their hits.
This Garbage certainly hasn’t been recycled.
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