by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
When I first heard that Garbage was putting out a new album that evoked the band’s 1995 self-titled debut, I was stoked. Few albums take me back to a specific time and place like that record, a masterpiece overflowing with so many sexy, fun, cool tracks that I became an instant fan the first time I heard it.
This past July, more than 20 years later, I downloaded “Strange Little Birds,” Garbage’s sixth studio album, hoping to recreate some of those euphoric feelings. Of course, the context of my listening experience couldn’t be more different: these days, I’m a mom, not a college student. I don’t go clubbing save for a special occasion, and I’m married.
Given all of these things, it’s difficult to give a Rolling Stone-worthy (or Pitchfork-worthy) review, where the focus is purely on the music, and how it compares to other music. But if you’re a longtime Garbage fan who’s thinking about downloading this album, I’ll share my thoughts:
#1: Shirley is ageless. Lead singer Shirley Manson’s voice, not to mention her goth-punk appearance, has barely changed since the late 1990s. She’s still as breathy and seductive as ever, with one of the most underrated voices in the music industry.
#2: Butch Vig & Co. hold their own: After nearly two decades of making music, can Manson’s bandmates (Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker) keep up with younger, bolder contemporaries? In a word, yes! “Strange Little Birds” encompasses a broad soundscape, filled with a smattering of noises and pretty instruments that come together like a well-blended artisan coffee drink (or, as Rolling Stone puts it, “sheer guitar buzz and moody industrial texture”).
#3: ‘Strange Little Birds’ is less like ‘Garbage’ than ‘Version 2.0’: This record is angry, with aggressive songs like “Empty” that evoke pretty much everything Nine Inch Nails (post “Pretty Hate Machine,” naturally). I’d love for the modern-day equivalent of “Only Happy When it Rains” — a goth-in-disguise pop track with a fun, peppy beat — but alas, there are none here.
#4: There is no epic “#1 Crush.” If you’re dying for Shirley to seduce you with “I would die for you”-like lyrics, dream on. You won’t find anything that would fit a “Romeo & Juliet” soundtrack on this record.
#5: But there are still still a couple of drop-everything-and-listen tracks. One listen to the epic “Even Though Our Love is Doomed,” and I immediately felt redeemed for spending $12.99 on this album.
Overall, “Strange Little Birds” leaves me wanting more. It makes me nostalgic for old Garbage, and the days of “Queer” or “Stupid Girl.” All in all, it’s a great record, even though I won’t be playing it enough for any of the tracks to slide into my “Top 25 Most Played” playlist.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.