Ignore all the dark, grungy, essentially ’90s alt-rock entrapments, and Garbage’s blend of fuzzy guitars, slick production, and powerful female vocals embodies late ’90s pop boiled down to its essentials. The angst and aggression in the lyrics of “Only Happy When It Rains” or “Stupid Girl”, the edgy clothes, the distortion on the guitars: It’s all exactly what was marketable at the time. There’s just enough dark cloud to satisfy those curious about the dark edge and just enough pop familiarity to hit the radio big. But that’s what you get when you form a band of songwriters and producers: a collective that know the ins and outs of the business as much as the art. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Not Your Kind of People, the first Garbage disc in seven years, sounds just as tight, shiny, and dark as vocalist Shirley Manson’s pleather boots.
Manson, drummer Butch Vig, bassist Duke Erikson, and guitarist Steve Marker know how to make music sound right, no matter its foundation (but particularly so if it leans towards the ’90s). Vig was behind the boards for Nirvana’s Nevermind, Sonic Youth’s Dirty, and Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish, among many others. Marker worked with bands like L7 and the underrated Killdozer. These four have the pedigree of a Westminster champion, and it shows in their five albums in front of the microphones.
After the general wear and tear experienced by any band that’s toured for 10 years, the band went on “indefinite hiatus” in 2005. However, Not Your Kind of People picks up the old sound without any hesitation, as if the time had never passed. The twinkling waves of piano that open “Control” is pure production mastery, and the sludgy bass and dark, relationship-based lyrics (“I let my guard down/I let the truth out”) are vintage Garbage.
The title track, though, wallows in a melancholy nostalgia that makes sense considering the context. The multi-tracked vocals find a squad of Mansons cooing some angst, the guitar riffs shade the edges, and the electronics keep things off-kilter. But lolling lines like, “we are not your kind of people/we find when you start talking/there’s nothing but white noise” over a loping, aimless instrumental like this can’t recapture any of the gloom or rage that the great ’90s acts had to offer. Similarly, the claim in “Man On a Wire” that looking in the mirror leads to “a big black beast looking back at me” is shrug-enducing, despite Manson’s best sneer, hard-ratcheting guitar, and thumping drums.
Even at its weakest moments, though, Not Your Kind of People is still as good as any mediocre album released in the late ’90s. The big, dubby, noir guitar hooks on lead single “Blood for Poppies” would’ve fit right on alt-rock radio, as would the discordant electronic gurgles and distrustful lyrics on “I Hate Love”. The British single “Battle In Me” evokes early Garbage material like “Supervixen” with its concussive, stop-start riffs and electronic flourishes. When Manson sings, “Let’s take a torch to the past and the future,” one can’t help but to assume she’s not sincere; the past has become Garbage’s bread and butter.
That said, the whole album sounds like an anomaly. This isn’t the kind of music that garners a lot of radio-play the way it did ten years ago. It’s not the type of music that gets the indie kids going, either. The appeal then, lies largely for Garbage fans (who have been salivating over this new release for a long while), those that haven’t left the ’90s behind, those for whom grungy arena pop is the genre that never dies.
That said, the big missteps are few and far between (as is to be expected from such consummate professionals). Manson sounds just as strong and limber as ever, at turns menacing and sultry. Vig’s drumming fits in the pocket throughout, though it does get buried in the mix a bit too often. Marker’s riffs never fail to generate some electricity, and Eriksen provides the low-end to keep everything sewn together. Aside from the aforementioned pair of tracks that hit dark pop highs akin to Garbage’s best, this is just another solid disc from solid musicians, no more, no less.
Essential Tracks: “Control”, “Battle in Me”