Garbage, ‘Not Your Kind of People’ – Album Review
Remember that episode of ‘South Park’ where Stan and Kyle find a guy frozen in a cave? Remember how he after he thaws out he’s dumbfounded by 2003, so the boys house him in a 1996 habitat to preserve his sanity? From the sounds of ‘Not Your Kind of People,’ Shirley Manson and her Garbage gang must have been frozen in that same Colorado cave, because ‘Not Your Kind of People’ is stuck in ’96.
This is understandable. In those halcyon days of the late millennium, Manson’s vamp-chic was something new(ish): a stormy Scottish contrast to Gwen Stefani‘s sun, a sultry foil to Alanis Morissette. And, while taking the outsider’s posture, and a narrative of revenge, Garbage was exactly what was in at the time, as proved by the double-platinum sales of their 1995 debut. The band’s sound, chiefly orchestrated by Nirvana producer Butch Vig, has an underground-in-the-mainstream aesthetic that carries to this record, released almost two decades later — a kind of Casey Kasem-meets-Kraftwerk Top 40 industrial. That a band of such talent, and such music industry experience, create what is essentially an imitation of their earlier work is abhorrent. In the case of ‘Not Your Kind of People,’ revenge is a dish best served boring.
From the first moments of album opener ‘Automatic Systematic Habit,’ it’s clear that these are all sounds we’ve heard before, driving pop turbines scored by some forgotten Michael Bay movie operating underneath Manson’s furious-gone-stale volley of “Lies, lies, lies / you love those lies.” Somebody wronged her, and girl is pissed. That’s the uniting theme here, whether it be the double-timing lover in ‘Habit,’ the music industry in the dubby single ‘Blood for Poppies,’ or the tired, hate-myself-for-loving-you trope of ‘I Hate Love’ — all tracks that feel about as fresh as an AOL email address.
On the album’s strongest tracks, Manson sounds like her followers. The wide-eyed wonder of ‘Big Bright World’ sounds like what might happen if Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs suffered a pop turn and lyrical dip: “You’re so innocent / Fell out of a hole inside the sun.” If Lady Gaga traded the dance club for the rock show, she might have produced ‘Battle in Me,’ a single-worthy track that might be the album’s best. The awkward “this little light of mine” outro of album closer ‘Beloved Freak’ could pass as a ballad by a grown-up Ke$ha.
It’s all just so clumsy. In the era of the MP3, Garbage are still singing about “calling into the radio.” Seeing an act once so carefully cool resurface as irrelevant is deeply disappointing. Though once full of movement, here Manson is stiff and frozen.