Strange Little Birds
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Three years in the making and four since 2012’s Not Your Kind of People (the debut on the group’s own STUNVOLUME imprint), Garbage returns with their sixth and arguably rawest release. Not as much a regression as a more mature shaping of the foursome’s synth/guitar laced tunes (the haunting “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” features singer Shirley Manson singing “I’m a big girl now…I’m all grown up”), Strange Little Birds keeps the instrumentation stripped down if not always stark and the production at its most minimal.
There are still a few harder edged tracks such as “Blackout” and “So We Can Stay Alive” to satiate the rockers. But the disc tilts more to darker shaded ballads like the spare, beat driven “If I Lost You” and the percussive “Magnetized” that maintain the traditional Garbage sound, yet move into more reflective territory. While the band have never been known for an upbeat lyrical bent, these songs are particularly gloomy, forbidding and leave little doubt that Garbage feels most comfortable on the dark end of their street. “We’re on the outside always looking in,” sings Manson in her typically alluring voice that always seems to be just a note away from exploding into vitriolic anger, yet never does. It’s that balance of hard beats and purring, cat-like singing best exemplified in the careening, creepy/beautiful tones of “If I Lost You” that has generally created the unspoken tension in Garbage’s music and is in full display on this album. Certainly titles such as “Empty,” “We Never Tell” and “Night Drive Loneliness” hint at the naked emotions and unfulfilled desires that push the blood to the heart of these songs.
Even when the sonic landscapes show glimmers of light, they take often sudden turns to dive back into the duskiness that hovers over nearly every track. It may not put any tunes from this Garbage set onto the charts, but clearly that’s not what influences this band, now over 20 years into their career.
Existing fans will appreciate the uptick in sheer moodiness and offbeat experimental tendencies matched with fluid, often hypnotic melodies the quartet displays on the majority of Strange Little Birds. Newcomers to the Garbage experience can start here and work themselves backwards through an impressively edgy catalog brimming with more of the same.