Garbage – Not Your Kind of People (2012)

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Garbage shows it can still swirl alt-rock, post-pop and electro-dance beats in a highball glass of lip-busting attitude on this, their first album in seven years. The difference here is the band’s newfound sense of angsty consequence.

Everything feels turned down a little, with the guitars a little less scalding, the singing a little more measured, the rhythms a little less pile driving, the lyrics a little more self-aware, and the synths a little less bleepy. Not Your Kind of People, due on May 22, 2012 through Garbage’s label Stunvolume, might just be the most serious album they’ve done.

That’s probably fitting, considering how much time has passed. When flame-haired frontwoman Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker burst on the scene in the mid-1990s, they were as direct and surprising — as filled with real narrow-eyed demeanor — as the slowly descending grunge movement was becoming reactive, co-opted and so very boring.

More interesting is the transformation of tough-talking Manson, who — despite her TV turn in 2010 as (typecasting, or what?) a terminator on “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” — isn’t as dangerous as she once seemed, perhaps as much as anything because the decade that followed saw a series of bands co-opt both her flinty sensibility, not to mention Garbage’s compressed, pop-industrial sound.

But it’s personal, too. Where she once prowled around on stage like something hunting prey, singing every word with this kind of S&M-y undercurrent of man-breaking passion, Manson now opens up in the most disarming ways on Not Your Kind of People. Listen to her beautifully broken, vengefully accepting burr on tracks like “I Hate Love”: “Innocent and open as any lamb and hoping for paradise,” Manson sings, over a skittish guitar and urping house scronks, “yeah, I hate love.” On the heart-broken “Sugar,” the band employs a series of noir-ish keyboard flourishes, adding to the sense of twilight portent.

Even when Garbage plugs in to rock a little, there is a dark undertow — not that different from initial breakthrough moments like “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” or “Stupid Girl,” but with a twinge of sadness. “Automatic Systematic Habit,” with its techno-thumping rhythm, finds Manson blurting out this entreaty: “I don’t want to be your dirty little secret.” Even as Garbage makes a smart reference to the thunderous riff from Cream’s “White Room,” Manson can only sneer: “lies, lies, lies!” — the very portrait of a damaged lover. As catchy as “Blood For Poppies” and the title track are, they still carry with them these roiling sentiments: “We are not your kind of people — you seem kind of phony. Everything’s a lie.” Tracks like “Felt” and “Battle in Me” might be loud as hell, but that only makes Manson sound more small and alone.

Then, there’s “Beloved Freak,” which answers the unasked question: What if Coldplay was fronted by a sizzling hot Scottish street tough? All kidding aside, the song sums things up perfectly on an album that humanizes Manson like no other: “This little light of mine,” she sings balefully, as the band soars into a cumulus of dream-pop texture, “I’m gonna let it shine.” Opening up like that may, in fact, be the bravest Manson’s ever been.

Certainly, by giving us a peek behind her ass-whipping armor, she’s made her return less about recalling Garbage’s past glories than about pushing her own songcraft into raw, new emotional places. In those moments, Not Your Kind of People shines brightest.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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