If Garbage is known for one thing, it’s integrity. After the critical success — and commercial failure — of their 2001 album Beautiful Garbage, their label demanded the group stop blending rock with EDM and start producing more pop-friendly material. Instead, all Warner Brothers got was a four-month hiatus, another commercially mediocre album and a lengthy seven-year break.
In 2012, Garbage released Not Your Kind of People, which somewhat resembled the band’s previous sound, but lacked many of the boundary-pushing elements the was notorious for. With Strange Little Birds, released Friday, the group turned to more intimate and dark sounds, successfully delivering a worthy follow-up to what Garbage produced 15 years ago.
Frontwoman Shirley Manson has always thrived in sorrow, and although she got married during the band’s temporary break, she continues to sing about her insecurities and romantic failures in Strange Little Birds. One of the album’s highlights, “Night Drive Loneliness,” is about how difficult it can be to travel home alone after a long night. Manson manages to create a drawn-out feeling of minor depression, with every lyric in the song blending into one long sigh.
To add on to this effect, each member of Garbage plays directly into Manson’s dismal attitude. Butch Vig’s drumming is hard when it needs to be, but takes a backseat to Duke Erikson’s dominance on the bass and melodic moments from Steve Marker on the guitar and keys.
The main pitfall of Strange Little Birds is that although it pushes the band’s sound in a new direction, it lacks the surprises that most of Garbage’s previous releases have. Whether it’s the incorporation of hip-hop beats or exploration of electronic sounds, it’s easy to feel like Garbage is tapping into their reserves to give one last push.
The parallels are often obvious and even the most casual Garbage fans will be able to recognize what’s going on. The paranoia of Bleed Like Me carries directly over, and the innovative pop sound from their 1995 debut Garbage oozes out of Strange Little Birds, covering up the band’s bleak messages.
For that reason, the album feels like a culmination of sorts, combining the elements that worked on previous Garbage releases into one fluent experience. New fans to the group will find this release to be one of their most enjoyable – after all, it is a combination of the band’s best elements. This project finds Garbage somewhere between late ’90s Foo Fighters and Green Day at their most sarcastic, with the bleak outlook of My Bloody Valentine, coming together to make for an enjoyable listening experience.
For long-time listeners, Strange Little Birds doesn’t innovate, and instead treads water. Sure, it’s interesting for a while, but after repeated listens, it’s obvious that Garbage isn’t moving forward with this LP.
Strange Little Birds
- Artist: Garbage
- Genre: Alternative rock
- Tracks: 11
- Rating: 5/10