Release Date: May 15, 2012
“We are extraordinary people,” Shirley Manson sings on the first Garbage album since 2005, and in an era of ever-more-youth-obsessed pop, there’s no doubt about that. Onstage earlier this month at the annual “Weenie Roast” concert hosted by Los Angeles alt-rock radio behemoth KROQ, Manson’s black-clad bandmates came off like visiting professors long before she mentioned that the band had initially played the event in 1996. Unmentioned were the other acts on the bill back then — Lush, Goldfinger, and the motherfucking Verve Pipe, whose “The Freshman” basically described the bright-eyed kids patiently waiting for the Dirty Heads and Coldplay.
But you know what doesn’t diminish a group that started out singing about being propped up by yet another pill? Seven more years of frustration and disappointment. The opening words on Not Your Kind of People are, “You love those lies / You tell them straight to my face,” and the bitter certainty with which Manson spits them makes you realize that the slick digital-rock stylings of the band’s breakthrough hits — “Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl,” “I Think I’m Paranoid” — served only to conceal a truth now self-evident: The members of Garbage were born to be old.
Old, but not infirm. Though the future has caught up with them in the form of fun., Foster the People, and countless other dance-dabbling, electronically tinged rock acts, the band still plays with the headstrong, no-less-determined force of natural explorers. In “Automatic Systematic Habit,” drummer Butch Vig lays down a blistering disco-punk beat, while “Man on a Wire” sports a central guitar riff as taut as any on the Foo Fighters’ recent, Vig-produced Wasting Light. And let’s take a second here to shout out Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the well-traveled studio bassist, who drives many of these 11 master-crafted tunes with a funked-up urgency.
But if Garbage’s gearheads prove they can keep up with the youngsters they’ve helped inspire, Manson seems relieved to have reached an age where raging “against the dying light,” as she puts it in “Big Bright World,” ranks up there with sex and drugs as appropriate subject matter. Throughout Not Your Kind of People, the singer ponders the slow accretion of experience, revealing that she’s “spent a lifetime feeling incomplete” in “Sugar” and using the very “How Soon Is Now?”-ish “Control” to deliver what sounds like an indictment of those hazy, crazy post-grunge days: “I was trapped like a prisoner in my skin / I was punished like an animal for my sins / I was bound and I was caged and I was tricked / And I was suffocating.” (Imagine how the guy from Marcy Playground must’ve felt.)
For “Blood Like Poppies,” the album’s juicy lead single, she even offers up a first-person, Dylan/Springsteen-style character study, embodying the conflicted thoughts of an American solider knee-deep in Afghanistan’s opium trade. “I miss my dog and I miss my freedom,” Manson sings with disarming empathy. She summons that tenderness again in “Beloved Freak,” a crystalline electro-soul ballad that floats some familiar misanthropy — “People lie and people steal / They misinterpret how you feel” — before finding resolve in community, of all things. “And so we doubt and we conceal,” she sings, “You’re not alone.”
Elsewhere, the titles of “I Hate Love” and “Battle of Me” probably speak for themselves; each feels like a perfectly preserved slice ofClueless soundtrack history, even if the latter finds Manson urging a lover to “take a torch to the past.” (“And let’s make out,” she adds with an audible sneer, “I won’t tell your girlfriend.”) Whether or not they’re acknowledging the years they’ve reeled in, though, Garbage exude a hard-won wisdom as welcome as it is unusual. They’ve learned how to keep breathing. What a trick.