Garbage always seemed so brazenly plastic during the authenticity gold rush of grunge, but their glossy slickness has proved to be as much saving grace as fatal flaw.
Regrouping at the dawn of this decade following a lengthy hiatus, the alt.rock supergroup’s second album on their own indie label is billed as being more cinematic and less rocky than usual. This translates into slightly fewer heavy guitars and slightly more piano and strings. Otherwise it’s business as usual in Shirley Manson’s deluxe sex dungeon. Which is a good thing, mostly.
Sonically, Strange Little Birds has one foot in the lush, high-tech noirscape that Depeche Mode call home, from the seismic wobbleboard effects punctuating the sultry S&M power ballad Sometimes to the sci-fi laser-gun noises that crank up the whooshing melodrama of So We Can Stay Alive. Manson also strays into Goldfrapp or Portishead territory on brooding torch songs like Even Though Our Love Is Doomed and Teaching Little Fingers To Play.
Strip away all the sumptuous studio texture and these lyrics – about savage love, violence and revolution – are sodden with adolescent gothpunk cliché. But this scarcely matters when the future arena anthems Magnetized and We Never Tell hit their stride: lusty, energised and refreshingly shallow.