Lust, heartache, betrayal and regret, all backed by growling chainsaw guitars.
At first blush, it seems as if singer Shirley Manson of Garbage has been the victim of the longest bad-hair day in history. In fact, in the four years since the band’s last release, Garbage has dealt with, as they freely admit, “illness, surgery, creative disagreements, major life changes and—depending on whom you ask—either a break-up or a much- needed sabbatical.”
But when the band behind such hit singles as “Happy When It Rains” emerged from the funk with their fourth record, “Bleed Like Me,” it was proof-positive that pain can be a catalyst for great art. Only two weeks since it was released, “Bleed Like Me” has risen to number four on Billboard Magazine’s “Album Chart.”
Since 1995, Manson, Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson have gained a reputation for pairing dark subject matter with infectious post-punk guitar licks. Their new release takes this to the extreme, with rabid guitar and drum sounds, and even darker subject matter.
“Bleed Like Me,” the title track, is the best of the bunch, juxtaposing Mason’s pretty, plaintive vocals with haunting acoustics that give way to churlish licks. The song is a tome of self-destruction in the name of survival, with the players seeking refuge in eating disorders, gender-bending, self-mutilation, therapy and the old stand-by, booze. Manson gives a shout out to her author friend J.T. Leroy with the final stanza, “J.T. gets all fucked up in some karaoke bar/ After two drinks he’s a loser, after three drinks he’s a star/ Getting all nostalgic as he sings ‘I Will Survive’/ Hey baby, can you bleed like me?” The ghostly chorus, “You should see my scars,” is a spine-tingling denouement to a positively addictive song.
The following track, “Metal Heart,” is equally poignant, balancing unbridled guitar breaks with a wish to rise above the petty betrayals and injustices of a cruel world. Ditto for “Why Do You Love Me?” which opens with ‘80s-style punk guitar sounds, and Manson’s smack in the face of love. She sings, “Why do you love me?/ It’s driving me crazy,” and builds up to one of the most pithy endings to ever grace a rock song. In a tiny, sad voice, Manson croons, “I think you’re sleeping with a friend of mine/ I have no proof but I think that I’m right/ And you’ve still got the most beautiful face/ It just makes me sad most of the time.”
She delivers a long-overdue kick in the groin with “It’s All Over But The Crying,” an acoustic guitar and synthesizer-heavy anti-love song about the end of a relationship. Manson sings, “Certain things turn ugly when you think too hard/ and nagging little thoughts/ Change into things you can’t turn off/ Everything you think you know, baby, is wrong/ It’s all over but the crying.”
But “Bleed Like Me” is far from being stuck in the mire of self-victimization. Admittedly dark, some of the songs still manage to inspire and empower. The opener, “Bad Boyfriend,” is an incredibly potent rocker, with one of the funniest, sexiest come-on lines ever: “I know some tricks I swear will give you the bends/ C’mon baby be my bad boyfriend.”
And “Right Between the Eyes,” a track the band reportedly laid down in their first 30 minutes in the studio, is a kick in the face to the cruel world, with the lyrics, “They can’t hurt you with their sticks and stones/ About time take them right between the eyes.”
“Boys Wanna Fight” tackles militarism and the testosterone that fuels it. And “Sex is Not the Enemy,” is a call to revolution, railing against the moral majority’s abstinence-only propaganda, with Manson singing, “I won’t feel dirty and buy into their misery/ I won’t be shamed ‘cause I believe that love is free/ It fuels the heart and sex is not my enemy.”
It is clear that whether it was a sabbatical or a break-up, some time apart was just what Garbage needed. Every song on their long-awaited release is beautiful and poisonous, like any worthwhile addiction. From a studio band—a self-described lark—Garbage has recycled itself into a real, live, loud, ass-kicking celebration of the whole divine comedy of life.