At some point in the past decade, a vicious backlash started over reviews that dared to reference the back catalogue of an artist in a comparative sense. It seems as if people believe that every new album functions as a completely desolate and solitary work devoid of history or popular consumption. This backlash almost requires that reviewers become amnesiacs. Then, and only then, can an artist’s new material be truly critiqued for its stand alone merits. Well, music doesn’t work that way. Familiarizing oneself to an artist’s back catalogue is precisely how careers are generated and it does not, in any way, undermine the validity of new work from said artist by comparing it to previous efforts. So, to proclaim that an artist’s new record does not stand up to the standard that artist set with previous recordings is a perfectly legitimate assessment. This works in most aspects of life. High jumpers don’t vacillate between high and low heights once they’ve managed to achieve a personal best. The best television series don’t regurgitate introductory exposition for every episode thinking that a whole new set of people will be tuning in each time. And most artists don’t set out to make a record that is worse than the album before—even though this can (unintentionally) happen.
Unfortunately for Garbage, they reached their sell-by date well before their unofficial split back in 2005. Their last two albums Beautiful Garbage and Bleed Like Me were thoroughly underwhelming most specifically because they were such unabashedly sucky follow-ups for a band that started off so cool. With Shirley Manson singing “You’re the queerest of the queer,” or spewing lines like, “Nobody wants to be alone / Everybody wants to love someone / Out of the tree go pick a plum / Why can’t we all just get along?” on the horrible “Androgyny”, it was a hard pill to swallow that one of the coolest bands was proving to be nothing more than your typical mega-band—you know the ones, who tout clichéd lines about “loving yourself” and “world peace” with no real deeper insight.
Perhaps a seven year hiatus would prompt this once revered group to truly contemplate precisely what it is they are singing about. We were wrong. With the release of Not Your Kind of People Garbage prove they are indubitably a one-trick pony who fluked one magnificent album and a half-way decent follow-up, ensuring that they would never again reach that level of authenticity and dark sincerity. When Manson sang, “I came to shut you up / I came to drag you down / I came around to tear your little world apart / And break your soul apart”, you believed her. However, in the most recent combative tune to grace their relatively small repertoire, “Battle in Me”, Manson sings similar sentiments with “It’s a bloody war / Of attrition / Let’s see which one of us / Is gonna last tonight”—but this time it feels forced and disingenuous.
The horribly forced nature of the band’s delivery is none more so exemplified in the mind-boggling lead single “Blood for Poppies”, where Manson gives a stunted and robotic performance as she runs through the verses as if reading her grocery list, singing “Salute the sun I’ve been sitting here all night long / Hauling rock over Buddha with the Longhorn / I got a hole so rip a pocket off my uniform / With the Blackwatch Boys gets your heads down / Duty calls but it is way too late I’m too far gone.” It wouldn’t be fair to assert that these are bad lyrics, but rather that Manson makes them sound like they’re bad lyrics, which is a result overstraining her wanton delivery in the key of Alanis Morissette. The few words you do make out through the run of a tune make the listener cringe in a way that is more defacing than these songs actually deserve. Long gone are the flooring deliveries of obsession in “#1 Crush”, or the scathing bite of “Stupid Girl”. The content of their tunes on Not Your Kind of People sound immature and childish, as if they’re desperately trying to appease the Katy Perry generation. Not that trying to stay youthful is necessarily a bad thing, but that it offers up no sense of substance. Everything becomes surface level glitz with not intrinsic deeper insight.
Sonically, the album is precisely what you would expect from a Garbage album. It’s baffling to think that a band that started off sounding so varied and intricate, piecing together so many various aspects of sound and synth technology now have predictable tropes that characterize them to such an insipid level. Even the jump from their 1995 debut Garbage to 1998’s Version 2.0 offered an interesting sonic progression. But since then they have stalled, adding in guitar wah’s and tinny drum beats where ever they can. You could easily jumble up the tracks from their last three efforts and there would be no discernible difference amongst them. Have a listen to the latter half of Absolute Garbage to see what I mean.
The album, however, will most likely appease die-hard Garbage fans who swoon over Manson’s undeniably charismatic style. She’s the cool Gwen Stefani, it’s just a shame that what the band produces isn’t necessarily indicative of precisely how cool Manson can be. With all the gusto Manson puts into her “not wanting to be defined” or “pushed around”, you’d think she’d have a more eloquent way of relaying that message. Her juvenile way of describing these sentiments will ultimately result in people simply ignoring her—so, in that sense, mission accomplished.
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// Notes from the Road
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