Written by Eric Sperrazza
The ’90s saw a staunch shift from the venerable, endless party music that was reflecting, prior. New jack swing was being replaced by the honesty and brutality of gangster rap. Hair bands were pushed to the side (Aqua Net, and all.) for the sounds of alternative rock. Punk music was taking a detour from the hardcore sounds of Black Flag and the Bad Brains and leaning into, both, radio-friendly hooks and the promotion of the Riot GRRRL movement. Dead smack in the middle of the decade, however, Madison, Wisconsin dropped the band Garbage onto the scene and broke all the molds that were being forged!
Garbage offered a unique new take on the decade’s music scene. They couldn’t fit nicely into any one box of punk, grunge, goth, or industrial rock and yet, they had flavors of all of those genres echoing through every track, at once.
Fronted by the epochal Shirley Manson, a Scottish native who was the physical manifestation of the sinister & seductive vibe of the music, she came dressed, head to toe, like a mannequin straight from the storefront window of Trash & Vaudeville in New York’s East Village. Her sultry voice pulled all the sounds and band styles together into one unmistakably dark crescendo. Shirley made you believe that, whether she was feeling self-deprecation, depression, obsession, or even hate, she was not suffering from these emotions, by any means… and she enjoyed them, relished in them, and was motivated by them!
The first song on the new LP and, ironically the lead single, is “The Men Who Rule the World.” It’s a perfect introduction to the macabre blend of electronica and grimy garage band power chords that blankets the whole album and a throwing shade and the greedy and power-hungry as only Garbage can do.
The track, “The Creeps,” offers a fun surf-punk feel peppered into the mix. This high-paced journey looks into what can only be described as trying to find hope and positivity amidst an anxiety attack. Although you are tapping your feet along to Shirley‘s rapid-fire vocal work, the imagery in your head that is being painted is a dichotomy to the pace of the song, almost as if it is meant for you to feel just as out of sorts.
“Uncomfortably Me” was a song that spoke to me, personally. It tackles dealing with a self-loathing that forms when keeping up with what society tells you that you should look and sound like. I can understand the body dysmorphia and feelings of not making the proverbial cut that comes along with striving for whatever the world deems are the archetypes of “normal.”
The track, “Wolves,” is an honest confession, in that, it references an old Cherokee Indian story about a grandfather and grandson. In the Cherokee tale, there is a war raging of two wolves inside the grandfather. One is evil, angry, sorrowful, regretful, dishonest, and egomaniacal. The other wolf embodies peace, love, joy, kindness, and humility. The grandfather proceeds to say that the only wolf that wins is the one that gets fed. Shirley sings her admissions of guilt of feeding the wrong wolf in her life; something we are all guilty of!
“Waiting For God To Show Up,” is a deep dive into the state of our world. The slow injection of the lyrics into your ears begs the question in your head if the world appears to be getting worse, where is the payoff of faith?
The issue of gender is tackled in “Godhead.” The lurid question posed to the listener, and thus the world, is this: Is the disparity between being called a leader and being called a bitch by society simply the difference in what genitals you have?
The seventh track on the album, “Anonymous XXX,” discusses anonymous sexual encounters and is quite forthcoming on the fun and safety from the harder emotional work that comes from love.
Picture in your head what it would sound like, for a moment, if you up and broke Shirley Manson‘s heart; If you made this tragically happily cynical woman FEEL warm and fuzziness and then dumped her. Can you imagine it? because that is the song, “A Woman Destroyed!” Someone, whoever this person is, should be afraid… be VERY afraid!
Aptly named “Flipping the Bird,” the ninth song on the album is a song of empowerment to all of us, out there in the world, adulting. We have bills to pay and bosses to answer to now, and the days of reckless abandon have been quelled with responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that inside, you are not responding with a single-fingered salute, and that is what this celebrates.
The title track, “No Gods, No Masters,” is a proclamation to those that have a deeper faith than others that regardless of who or what you believe or even pray to, we are all human. We are going to make the same mistakes and covet each other’s lives on social media, regardless. Know it and be humbled by it, no one is holier than thou.
The final song on Garbage‘s seventh installment is “This City Will Kill You.” This is an introspective experience about growing up. The parties, the lights, and the drugs cannot last forever. It’s not a sustainable life but it is a seductive one. It takes a real awakening and deep motivation to mature. Shirley puts that bravery on the front lines as this audio pep talk slowly curls into your ears.
With that, I have to say that Garbage‘s maturity is right up front and center with this album. The same ingredients are still simmering in the pot that put the band on the map. But there are emotions, admissions, reflections, and convictions that exist now, in the space that used to just be murky confidence in being aggressively and unforgivingly anti-establishment.
I love it when bands of my youth continue to mature with me. As I grow as a man and father, it’s not that I still don’t like the music of my youth. I do. But, my headspace is not the same. When bands can evolve and still speak to their audience, relating to them emotionally, politically, and honestly? That is the true test of a musician. The Beatles didn’t always want to hold your hand. As they got older and as the world around them changed, they related to their audience in more seasoned and relevant ways.
Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig aren’t only happy when it rains, anymore…but it clearly doesn’t hurt, when it does, either!
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