Initially, Garbage’s calling card was drummer Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind, among other grunge-era classics. In spite of that bankable association, the band wisely held grunge at arm’s length. After all, grunge was obsessed with the admittedly slippery ethic of authenticity. Garbage, by grunge’s standards, had none. Here was a group blatantly manufactured by Vig and guitarist Duke Erikson, journeymen who first played together professionally in 1975. The multiplatinum sales of 1995’s Garbage (and to a lesser extent, 1998’s Version 2.0) proved that the band’s sharp, dark hooks—plus Shirley Manson’s kohl-eyed vocal melodrama—could triumph on their own terms, as an oasis of slickness in a desert of flannel. After two lackluster albums in the ’00s, though, it seemed that Garbage had been relegated to the retro landfill. But with the new Not Your Kind Of People, Vig and crew aim to turn back time—or just refreeze it.
The good news is, Garbage’s broken clock is kind of right again. Nostalgia for the ’90s is at an all-time high, and the group’s shoegaze influences are more in vogue now than they were 15 years ago. Not Your Kind Of People seems like it was made with awareness of those facts, even though it doesn’t capitalize on them as well as it could. Keeping with Manson’s sultry, damaged allure, “Automatic Systematic Habit” opens the disc with a shrill blast of icy electro that feels more canned than contemporary, even as she reestablishes—or perhaps rehashes—her lurid old persona with the lines, “I want to be your dirty little secret.” Things truly begin to click with the eruptive “Big Bright World,” a song that mines the same fuzzed-out, deadpan pop (inspired mostly by Curve and The Jesus And Mary Chain) that Garbage helped sanitize in the ’90s.
From there, though, the bright spots come sporadically. “Control” is one of them: It’s a propulsive slab of clattering, industrial melancholia in which Manson morphs from chanteuse to tsunami at the drop of a beat. But even as the track hits its stride, her vocals become distorted and digitized beyond recognition, a cheap ploy for dynamics, obscuring the fact that Manson doesn’t need them. The title track is a ringing, sumptuous ballad that, like Garbage’s searing early singles, gives solace to every wounded adolescent within earshot. Manson has always trafficked in that irony: a rock star pretending to be an outcast, a beauty feigning beastliness.
Bombast makes up for a lot, though, and she still knows how to milk it. From the lush jangle of “Felt”—an unsubtle reminder that Vig also produced Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Siamese Dream—to the Radiohead-lite atmosphere of “Beloved Freak,” Manson taps into the same anthemic angst and hot-and-cold-running passion she perfected long ago. It’s too bad the rest of the band can’t always keep up. Too many songs (most notably the Depeche Mode-esque “I Hate Love” and the emptily aggressive “Man On A Wire”) spiral up to epic choruses that never materialize, and Vig’s hyper-processed production borders on sensory overload. But for an outfit that’s never denied its plastic-coated glamour, Garbage exits Not Your Kind Of People remarkably well-preserved.