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Garbage - No Gods No Masters (Album Review)

Friday, 25 June 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Remember when John Cusack inadvertently found a portal into the mind of a certain enigmatic thespian in Being John Malkovich? Well, an album by Garbage is, essentially, the same as that particular trip, only with singer Shirley Manson in the title role. On the band’s latest effort she invites us further into that rabbit hole than ever before, taking the world, and herself, to task over a storming salvo of retro-futuristic electro-pop-rock.

A fiery and indignant barrage of the political and personal, ‘No Gods No Masters’ finds Manson ruthlessly dissecting how she feels about the current state of society, as well as her own past, in order to figure out where to go from here. Abuses of power, institutional racism and misogyny are just some of the pressing issues tackled.

Electro-industrial stomper The Men Who Rule The World is basically Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams performed by Rammstein, with Manson calling for a Noah’s Ark-type societal reset, while Waiting For God queries the absence of divine intervention—in racist killings, wildfires, school shootings—over a haunting Russian doll structure.

Elsewhere, she eviscerates self-proclaimed, untouchable deities on the irrepressibly sexy, vicious and provocative Godhead, and A Woman Destroyed’s sense of steely-eyed vengeance packs a brooding filmic hum similar to the Terminator’s merciless synth soundtrack.

Although a powerful presence, Manson finds plenty to play off in her interplay with bandmates Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. The singer’s commanding presence may bind this thrill-ride together, but that threesome instinctively give concrete musical form to her rapid fire, abstract musings. 

Employing modern production tricks and an an all-era, all-genre grab bag of influences ranging  from Siouxsie Sioux to Roxy Music and New Order to Billie Eilish, they still sound like their wonderfully idiosyncratic selves while pushing forwards in a way that perfectly echoes Manson’s focus on using past and present to carve out a fresh future. 

Whether it’s the punky self-therapy car crash The Creeps, or the vulnerable and autobiographical Uncomfortably Me, her bandmates employ the full range of their skill sets here, often utilising dissonant textures and woozy phrasings to give everything an unsettled feeling that amplifies the record’s underlying sense of unease.  

This group’s best efforts always come wrapped in an indelible indie-pop blanket of memorable hooks and on that front this is easily their most consistent and pleasing effort since 2001’s ‘Beautiful Garbage.’ The title track is an empowered anthem that explodes into a radiant chorus, Anonymous XXX’s dancefloor buzz is radio-ready perfection and Wolves’ stalking Jekyll and Hyde tale culminates in an appropriately off-kilter and obsessive alt-rock refrain.  

Garbage were apparently frustrated at having to finish this album during lockdown. Every ounce of that irritability has fuelled these songs with an edginess that makes this latest addition to the soundtrack of ‘Being Shirley Manson’ as vital, powerful and intense as anything they’ve conjured up in their career.


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