Bleed Like Me is an album of contrived power-pop songs that chart the lows and lows of yet another failing relationship. Personally, the album uses too many catches, deliberate hooks and gimmicks to make this anything that will be played in my house too often.
Musically, Garbage is an accomplished group of individuals, three musicians and Shirley Manson that have struggled to stay together, according to various news sources. Multi talented drummer-guitarist Butch Vig left the band, Dave Grohl filled in before Vig returned triumphant only months later. Bleed Like Me could narrate its own turbulent production with the sex and finger-pointing added for dramatic effect.
Much of what is brought to the fore on this latest musical foray is an earnest attempt at building on the marginal success of their previous power-pop/rock submissions. However, the bands’ sound has not evolved from its last chart entry, 2001’s Beautiful Garbage. I’ve heard mixed reviews from Garbage fans able to get their hands on this album early, with some wondering why they waited almost four years for the same old Garbage formula. Others are grateful that after 10 years and many world changing events, Garbage can still produce an album that is consistent and characteristically their own.
Crisp and well rehearsed guitar rhythms, bass lines that drive verses and tight percussion lead the listener on a familiar audio structure that Garbage have used on earlier albums. Obvious, deliberate hooks, changes and bridges led me to feel uneasy about the sound. Though not unpleasant, the album’s overall style is one of a manufactured quality that left me with the same feeling I have when forced to sample a low-carb beverage that lacks in body and taste.
Perhaps it’s the way the sound appears to be divided into two elements, instruments versus vocals or a vocal accompaniment to pre-recorded instruments that make the sound awkward to my ear. There are moments where this arrangement works. The album opens with “Bad Boyfriend”, where the grinding guitar led intro is followed by Manson seductively purring invitations and challenges to potential suitors brave enough to take on this intriguing dame.
Sadly, Manson tries so hard to sound like a tantalizingly young seductress that she occasionally borders on a laughably lascivious even promiscuous woman desperately out to prove that she still has ‘it’. “Bad Boyfriend” flirts with the notion that relationships and people are there to be used as entertainment. The lyrics on the album appear to have been written by a spurned lover or someone desperately embittered with a former relationship, and perhaps that is why I felt like taking the CD from out of my stereo shaking it gently and telling it to move on with its life.
“Right Between the Eyes” and “Why Do You Love Me” drive, prance and thrust along the rails of menacing bass and distorted guitar riffs similar to many of Garbage’s finer moments. In “Why Do You Love Me” Manson confronts her lover with the accusation that he/she is engaging in an affair with a friend of hers, but pleads for an explanation of why her lover still loves her.
Album title track “Bleed Like Me” is a self-pitying cry of pain and surely forces the listener to worry for Manson’s own safety. For if this album had been released following her demise, fingers would surely point at this track as some kind of suicide note.
Confusingly, the album struggles at the climax, a subject that perhaps should have been considered during the lyric writing for “Sex Is Not The Enemy”. Curiously musical theatre suddenly rears its frightful head with “Boys Wanna Fight” casting the protagonist as a character in West Side Story or Grease. Even “Sex Is Not the Enemy” contains lovingly crafted backing vocals that create the impression that the distressed narrator has the support of her girlfriends.
Having taken us through the heartbreak of a dying relationship, and boy was this latest one traumatic, the album falls to its metaphoric knees with “It’s All Over But the Crying”, a tear-jerking ballad for those that spend evenings clutching a box of tissues watching The OC and Gilmore Girls. For the rest of us, we are left to appreciate that some people are more fragile than others.
“Why Don’t You Come Over” drives along on bouncy, energetic bass lines that lifts the gloom as the album reaches it’s rather drawn out climax to yet another woeful tale of uniform Garbage. Blithe ignorance surely kept the producers from scratching “Why Don’t You Come Over” from the final mix as it clashes with the other somber tones but ultimately may have been saved by its carefree attitude. However it fails to deliver wit, style or entertaining delivery.
Bleed Like Me left me concerned and I wonder how many more times will this collective group of musicians be able to tear out their shattered hearts, put them back together and carry on as though they have learned nothing from their experiences?