STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS by Garbage
Genre: Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Sometimes,” “Empty,” “If I Lost You”
Garbage helmed the post-grunge revolution in ‘95 by daring to dip into contemporary alt-rock’s brooding antagonism, and beat in hypnotic percussion loops and samples, stirring up a radical arrangement of disparate nineties genres. Finally the battling musical worlds of the trip-hop/industrial dance hall and the sullied grunge showbox seemed to unite under the jurisdiction of anti-screaming female Shirley Manson, whose smoky and sultry croons diverged from the barbed, sludgy, and punctuated growls of her female alt-rock companions. The outfit’s poppy sensibilities masterfully shone through their self-deprecating egos and their goth veneer, and their coup of the Billboard charts demonstrated the vigor of their cross-genre fanbase. Their gimmick sustained itself throughout the nineties and gave currency to the industrial dance scene while topping alt-rock charts. Let’s see if Garbage’s gimmick plays well into the current wave of 90s nostalgia.
Frontwoman Shirley Manson and her pack of seasoned grunge producer-musicians Steve Marker (of power-pop band Spooner), Duke Erikson, and Butch Vig (producer, Nirvana’s NEVERMIND) set forth on a comeback that at first commands a quasi-delectable atmosphere of alternative/industrial drones that throw the listener back to the outfit’s 90s heyday, but then takes a nosedive into heaps of unnecessary, evanescent riffs — compiling into a noise dump of tonal platitudes and hackneyed glitches comparative to an early 00s Spy-Fi TV jangle (getting some Alias vibes, here). STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS’ galvanized pop is a little too dramatic and slothful; the crossover-heavy sound is spoiled by pungent whiffs of glitchy beat loops and queasy vocal mixing.
STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS excels in its ability to perfectly harmonize masculine and feminine wavelengths. It’s omnisexual in its sexy baritones and whiskered vocal play. There’s no doubt in the abilities of Marker, Vig, and producer Billy Bush whose cross-genre engineering excels in tracks “Sometimes” and “If I Lost You.” Portishead to the max, “Sometimes” is the spine-chilling opener that surrounds Manson’s self-flagellating croons in a minimalist trip-hop arrangement pierced by aural atmospherics and breakbeat rhythms. “If I Lost You” is the doomy romance jam, drawing from some sultry electro-pop contemporaries such as Goldfrapp and Ladytron; Manson shoves some delectable goth-girl saccharine into a futuristic pop-rock track that lovingly pays homage to classics such as “Bleed Like Me” and “Milk.”
“Empty” is the sheeny single that beckons early fans to soak themselves in some strobed, 90s liquid metal, but tracks such as “Night Drive Loneliness” and “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” feature some over-glossy attempts to imbue some melodrama into the contemporary pop framework. Manson’s whines and slow-burn melancholy is too forced, jeopardizing what STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS builds in the first half of the album. As it teeters back and forth from conservative to innovative, the album’s muddled ambition draws away from some real knotty and feral pop ballads.
Sitting through STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS was turbulent. Garbage’s smokey trip-hop and grunge sensibilities begin to weave into and out of reception, and their attempts at sonic androgyny are spoiled by a strong will to please — a step back from the sheer indifference that punctuated their duplicitous post-grunge debut.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend