Craig is retired Performing Musician and Actor. He contributes various musings for Circus Bazaar.
For Garbage, Strange Little Birds is their 6th studio album. For some bands that have been around this long, it is easy t overlook them as ‘has been’s’ or ‘irrelevant in the music scene today’. Between the four members, they have a collective of 231 years of life experience, all of which arguably have been dedicated to writing and producing music. Strange Little Birds is worth your time.
Atmospheric strings open proceedings. Playing the flattened 3rd with piano accompaniment, 30 seconds in channelling Trent Reznor, a heavy industrial Nine Inch Nails takes over for the next minute. Then the magic happens, the strings and piano intersect and the industrial styling fuse together bringing these seemingly polar opposite genres into their own as though they were destined to be. Masons vocals are unmistakeable and morbid as one may come to expect. This leads to ‘Empty’ the first single released from the album. This essential pop formula has moved more than 17 million units for garbage over the past 20 plus years. There is a rocking dynamic bridge at around 2 minutes thirty – not much more to say.
Time for Blackout is the third track and from the outset, there is a familiar fuzz on the guitar, and again it follows the pattern of polished pop. Mason does hit some low range vocals through the verses which are contrasted nicely with the usual upper range through the chorus. Wait, at 3:50 you don’t see it coming, it’s the blackout breakout, it lasts about 40 seconds before re-joining the earlier riffs and breaking down to drums/vocals and the reintroduction of each instrument. Overall this track goes for 6 and half minutes, it’s easy enough to get lost in it the song. The time passes quick enough.
‘If I Lost You’, slows the tempo a little, introduces the classic MC808 with a pleasing blend of soft lead, air synth, some ripping bass and Masons melodies hovering above the groove. This fills out the album for over four minutes. When ‘Night Drive Loneliness’ opens you would be mistaken for thinking it sounds like a mixed up version of Sweet Dreams. This promising intro lasting 40 seconds and doesn’t let you down. A thick synth bass with stabbing-leads kicks in before Mason graces us with her morbid vocals. There is layer-upon-layer as one would expect, with a new sound waiting behind each change. Sweet melodies with hard tech and a big chorus. There’s a key change with a minute left of this 5 and a half minute track. We are reminded of the song-writing abilities of this outfit. This is Garbage, this is their bread and butter.
There is a deep sub-scar bass jacked straight from a piano introducing us to ‘Though Our Love is Doomed’. The vocal melodies are a fitting suit for the questioning theme of the lyrics, ‘why we kill the things we love the most’. The deep introspection that consumes a broken love with all the depressive symptoms are here, pleading for the love to go on even when it is doomed. The mellow-dynamics build to perfection for the crescendo beginning at 3:47, before finally breaking out around 4:30 from here it takes you to the end of the track and into ‘Magnetized’ – its big, diverse, breaking through different beats and styles in different sections of the track as though following some diverse but linear non-clinical psychosis.
‘We never tell’ changes direction from the previous two, returning to the mass appeal pop formula, this could be the most unpleasing track on the album, best described as ‘filler’. You won’t miss much if you skip this. Following is ‘So We Can Stay Alive’, breathing life back into the LP, the usual bi-polar of the music is present and it confirms that this group, while not producing anything ground-breaking, remain relevant and still sounding fresh today 21 years past their first release. At 4:15 things get changed up a little. A key change, some layers of ‘space lead’ that sounds like cosmic background radiation keeps you hanging on to the end.
‘Teaching Little Fingers To Play’…. there’s not much here. The verse/chorus don’t work too well, like two negative magnets, they rather repel each other. The lyrics ‘all grown up no around too fix me now’ may appeal to the young person finding their way in the world. The final track ‘Amends’, has a sequential slow building overtime happening, by 2:00 minutes the layers and intensity build with a pause at 2:30 before the full force of this album’s closer is unleashed. Stay with this one, it takes the LP out in a fashion consistent with that of what would be expected of seasoned performers and songwriters.
While there is nothing new, the production makes full use of the technology available in 2016 without being overproduced like every track is made in some antiquated Fruity Loops mix. In whole, it sounds well put together, planned and intentional. Shirley’s vocals and lyrics fit every atmosphere across the album. If you haven’t listened to Garbage since their debut 1995 release, it’s time you did, start with Strange Little Birds.
France’s vocals are intent, holistic and purposeful. The lyrics are as they need to be, at times urgent, also reflective, on time or in the moment. The writing is mature and scripted and leaves openings for improvisation. The old school...