In case you thought you might be in for something of an upbeat barn-burner of a record, the latest Garbage album starts with a three minute quiet gloomy piece called “Sometimes,” after which you get the big pop single, “Empty.”
Strange Little Birds is the work of a band who sound like they just want to do whatever it is they do, and they feel no particular need to cajole listeners into liking it. (Barring the required “hit single” attempt, that is.) The album’s kind of grim, and there’s almost a prog-rock quality in places. Two of my favorite songs are “Blackout,” which is six and a half minutes of the most compelling music they’ve ever made, and “So We Can Stay Alive,” another marvelous six minute piece toward the end of the record. They’re both kind of dark but in an energetic and compelling way.
Garbage, in a larger-than-normal nutshell, I suppose.
Now, you can say that I’m predisposed toward longer experimental rock pieces due to all that Genesis and Pink Floyd and such in my upbringing. And you’d be right! What I’m saying is, the band managed to tap into some of that vibe without ever sounding like anything but themselves. It’s amazing and I love it.
It’s not all glaring sunshine and thorn-guarded roses, however. “If I Lost You” is a dreary sappy weepy four minutes of exactly what you’d expect from a song titled “If I Lost You.” While “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” is a prettily-made track, I just bounced off of it completely. It’s not for me, perhaps.
Let’s be clear: If Shirley Manson’s vocal stylings and the band’s brand of social-commentary lyrical content have put you off of Garbage in the past, nothing about Strange Little Birds is going to bring you back. Hell, this album doubles down on all of that even more than did Bleed Like Me, the last of their albums to really pull me in.
So, should you buy Strange Little Birds? If you’ve ever been a Garbage fan, absolutely do it (if you haven’t already). If you were turned off from the band years ago, I doubt anything here is going to change your mind. If somehow you’ve never heard more of their stuff other than “Push It” and “Only Happy When It Rains,” and you’re wondering if this would be a good album to start with… yeah, do it. I recommend this album.
(Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go queue up “Blackout” and “So We Can Stay Alive” again. Damn, I love those songs.)