Eclectic alt-rock veterans Garbage have returned with their third post-hiatus album and seventh overall. No Gods No Masters continues in the Wisconsin band’s tradition, melding disparate musical styles into a unique amalgamation while building in enough pop hooks to keep the songs accessible and memorable. It is very much in line with what the band has put out since 1995, but with a bit more of an edge.
No Gods No Masters is the angriest and most political Garbage album, with singer Shirley Manson and company railing against the patriarchy, racism, and a culture of indifference to the suffering of others. But as always, that vitriol is balanced out by a varied sonic palette — moments of ugliness with moments of beauty, thrashing rock with danceable pop. Garbage never stays in one mood for too long.
Album opener “The Men Who Rule the World” is a raised fist protesting greed and exploitation. The sound of coins pumped into an arcade game gives way to Duke Erikson’s funky bassline and Steve Marker’s jangling guitar. “The king is in the counting-house; he’s chairman of the board,” Manson sings. “The women who crowd the courtroom all accused of being whores.” Manson’s voice is a sneer of disgust as the song kicks into a chorus of heavy staccato power chords. It is one of the album’s most aggressive songs and one of Garbage’s best in years.
The equally critical “Waiting for God” takes a different tactic, eschewing fiery venom for lament. Butch Vig’s slow, thudding beat coupled with rumbling static gives the song an air of apocalyptic hopelessness. Manson sings of a broken world full of sin and suffering waiting for God to make things right, but her brooding vocals and the musical tone give the impression that no such divine appearance is expected. “Waiting for God to show up. We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Manson sings, her voice betraying a sense of despair. “Smiling at fireworks that light all our skies up while black boys get shot in the back.”
“A Woman Destroyed” is a delightfully creepy track, the darkest on No Gods No Masters. The synthesizers and bass swell and contract, creating an eerie effect that coats the song with an ominous tension. “You know what they say about the ones that make you feel you’re hard to love,” Manson sings over an atmosphere fit for a horror movie soundtrack.
The dirty industrial rock of “Godhead” is a highlight, with its crunching beat and one of Marker’s best guitar riffs. “No matter what you have done, you are the godhead, the chosen one,” she sings, the raspy whisper of her voice conveying indignation.
But if all of that makes No Gods No Masters sound no fun, don’t worry. Garbage still has a knack for pop melodies, sing-along choruses, and infectious hooks. From the pulsing synths and dance floor beat of “The Creeps” to the bouncing groove of “Flipping the Bird,” the band balances out its more menacing moments. Though darker than most Garbage releases, No Gods No Masters is no less catchy than the albums that produced numerous hits in the 90s.
Eric Avery has played bass with Garbage for 16 years, how about including him in promo shots, folks? Darryl Jones syndrome? These corporate greedmongers tick me off.