20+ years removed from the release of their landmark debut album, Garbage return with what is surprisingly only their sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds.
Coming four years off their last effort, Not Your Kind Of People, this latest effort seems intent from the start of returning to the stark pop formula that propelled the band to the top of the alt-rock movement in the late 90's. Since then, of course, the band has sought to expand their sonic palette by adding new colors to their proven formula to varying degrees of success.
On Bleed Like Me, for example, the band's desire to "rock" led them to abandon their core sound and, in doing so, nearly lose themselves in the search for inspiration. Despite getting off to a quick start, the project quickly hit a wall that nearly led to their break-up. The finished product sounded much too conventional for a Garbage record and led this writer to ponder if the band hadn't exhausted their creativity altogether.
It would be their last effort for major label Geffen Records.
On this, their second album on their own imprint, Stunvolume, the band sounds completely relaxed, confident and hell-bent on reclaiming the techno-rock mantle they relinquished through inactivity.
Shirley Manson is in her finest voice yet, taking on an eerily similar tone to the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde on the album's standout track, "Blackout". Of course, it helps that guitarists Duke Erickson and Steve Marker do their best James Honeymen-Scott impersonations.
On "If I Lost You" and "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed", Manson's ability to simultaneously express vulnerability and strength provides the necessary tension to keep you wondering what verbal twists and turns lie just around the next corner. That's the real surprise of the entire album, in fact, as Manson's lyrics take on a decidedly confessional quality minus the "girl power" posturing of past efforts.
While this album may never surpass their debut in terms of chart success or the number of singles to garner heavy radio play, Strange Little Birds stands as perhaps the most honest and transparent glimpse into the psyche of a band made of four distinct and fiercely driven personalities. This album proves that the tectonic tension that may exist between band members is just as much a component of the band's creativity as the studio gear Butch Vig pushes to its limits on each song.