Album Review: Garbage – ‘Strange Little Birds’

Obsessions: They may be ugly and rip our souls wide open but chances are, they never sounded this good. If you’re a Garbage fan, you’ve probably turned to them in times of need – from pain to judgement to feeling unworthy – as they’ve proven time after time that they understand us and are willing to stand up for what they believe to be right while the majority are off baking biscuits and faking smiles.

With the band’s sixth studio release, Strange Little Birds, we’re able to dive deeper into ourselves as we’re offered an introspective look into the cages of our minds. It’s time we dug deeper and Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker have crafted the ultimate therapy session in under an hour.

Make no mistake – Garbage aren’t just a band of inner angst; they’re a symbol of hope for their adoring fans and a breath of genuine, brutal honesty that the music industry needs these days. While most can’t help but compare any new material the band has recently released to their early days of 90’s alternative takeovers, it’s time we listened with an open, hungry heart as the thoughts that have been lurking beneath our deceiving, happy-go-lucky social media selves come out of hiding. Basically, shit just got real and now we’re forced to feel something.

They say you need to go through hell in order to get to where you need to be. Starting off with “Sometimes,” we’re brought into a dungeon of sorts that starts off as a cinematic dream yet quickly forebodes the chaos that’s about to ensue. As Manson sings, “I learn more when I am bleeding,” it’s pretty evident that this album means business. Such a sinister way to open an album yet it’s so impeccable it hurts.

Lead single with a classic Garbage feel, “Empty” brings about the frustrations of not feeling adequate in a world where everyone seems to have it all figured out. “I’ve been feeling so frustrated / I’ll never be as great as I want to be” and “I get tired of trying / Ideas die on the vine and I feel like a fake” are words that you’ll often find coming out of my own mouth. For an alien in this industry, this song has become a new anthem for whenever I feel as if I’ll never measure up to other journalists. Then of course, there’s the constant obsession aspect of the track as that one person invades your psyche until there’s no room for anything else, leading to complete desolation.

Album highlight is without a doubt, the brooding, straightforward “Blackout.” As chills form throughout your entire being, we get a classic Manson move with lyrics such as, “Get out your head, try not to think, be cool, be calm, be fake / Dumb yourself down, number yourself out / Fake it till you make it break / Make the world black out,” we’re invited into what really matters underneath those so-called happy delusions society forces us to believe and take part in.

Once the Madonna-esque “If I Lost You” comes barreling in, we’re brought to our knees in Manson’s vulnerable, confessional tale of love and the insecurities that come with it. I could be wrong but I’m guessing,“You tell me I’m a good girl and you know it,” is a possible (and very unexpected) Drake reference? My own anxieties come out during the second verse of, “Not every man is made the same / So unevolved to think that way.” What a lovely notion to dwell on.

“Night Drive Loneliness” takes us through a rough part of town in the pouring rain while picking up lost souls along the way. This one shall be interesting to witness live as it is riddled with anxiety and chill-inducing riffs. “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed,” which has been described by the band as, “the heart of Strange Little Birds,” is an ode to the one you love but can’t have as the chains are unwillingly broken and there’s no other option but to reluctantly walk away. Manson’s vocals are pristine (and impressively recorded in one take) as she, yet again, captures the essence of what it means to be completely consumed in an illusion that won’t ever come to fruition. The way the track just builds up towards the end is an experience in itself. “Such strange little birds devoured by our obsession.”

Some serious Version 2.0 vibes surround us with “Magnetized” and the electricity is palpable. As Manson gives us a play-by-play of the sabotage of a potential relationship by repeating, “I’m not in love, I’m not in love,” like a mantra, we’re brought right back into every almost-love we’ve ever experienced when we had to remind ourselves that what we’re getting into is dangerous territory despite the undeniable pull. “We Never Tell” hints that maybe all that willpower wasn’t successful but hey, we’re only human.

Fast-paced noise-induced anthem, “So We Can Stay Alive,” is a telling tale of the vices we choose in order to keep our feet on the ground while “Teaching Little Fingers To Play” is a haunting, carnival-esque ode to inner-strength with an undeniable Depeche Mode vibe to please any 80’s enthusiast.

Album closer, “Amends,” continues to play on the confessional aspect that runs rampant throughout the entire record while reaching a turning point for Manson as she sings, “There is nothing you could say to cause more hurt or cause me shame than all the things that I have thought about myself.” It’s a long overdue sigh of relief as we finally lay our burdens down and move on. Perhaps the moral of the story is that the high road may be lonely but it is so crucial to our journey.

For an album that was less fussed over – lyrically and sonically – it’s their most cohesive yet, making Strange Little Birds the album Garbage fans have been waiting on. We knew they had this in them all along and finally, it has been unapologetically unleashed – in true Garbage fashion, of course.

Strange Little Birds is available now here.