Review Summary: Garbage already have two excellent records available. Don't be greedy.
Foreword: I bear no ill-will toward Garbage. Yes, I don’t find Shirley Manson particularly attractive, and have thus far failed to notice the supposed visceral sexuality that reportedly drips from her voice. But I do enjoy their records somewhat, even though I’m quite aware that there’s little here that has not already been covered by a little group called Curve, back when Butch Vig was a mere producer.
Being considerably underwhelmed by 2001’s BeautifulGarbage, the opening guitars of Bleed like Me’s raucous opener ‘Bad Boyfriend’ bring forth several false impressions and premature judgments, namely
a) These guitars sure are loud; not a synth to be seen
b) Shirley Manson sounds like a man when she raises her voice
c) These lyrics of sexual innuendo are terrible: this is the earthy sensuality I’ve been missing?
d) Garbage has jointly decided to model its sound after latter-day Hole.
Though I have a certain talent for basing my final judgment upon a first impression quite accurately, I’d still like to be proven wrong sometimes. However, even after repeated listens to the first track, I must conclude that it’s easily one of the worst in their entire catalogue. The rhythm section sounds so similar to so many early 90s alternative/grunge tracks, you may pay more attention to spotting the likeness than to the actual song. Though I prefer the electro-pop formula the group has used on their previous outings, the thick-edged guitar sound present throughout Bleed Like Me isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Everything else, however, has gone downhill; take ‘Why do you love me’ for instance. The guitars, supercharged once more, are relentless in pushing a rawk-out melody, but Ms. Manson spoils the fun by attempting to keep up with the guitars, resulting in an embarrassing showcase of her vocal imperfections, and an alarming predilection to shouting out lyrics.
Oblivious to the absence of a hooky party single like ‘When I grow up’ (Version 2.0) or ‘Cherry Lips’ (Beautifulgarbage), the group continues to push its newly minted party-hard flavour throughout the album runtime. Even the down-and-out tracks of failed romance buzz suspiciously with hints of optimism, or simply display the hollow sound of songwriters trying to depress listeners while being in an interminably good mood themselves. This doesn’t help the song structure, and hence, the title track comes off as little more than a watery re-write of the incongruously placed ‘Medication’ on Version 2.0. I know that I’m supposed to be touched by hearing of gender bender Chris but the lyrics of Stevie ‘getting nostalgic as he sings I Will Survive’, just won’t do. ‘It’s all over but the Crying’ works, however, and is one of the few highlights of the album, solely because it follows a formula of quiet-breakup-song to a tee. Ms. Manson’s voice is also at a pleasantly low pitch, a huge plus point for the song.
‘If the boys wanna fight, the girls are happy to dance all night’
I didn’t have to trudge on too much further before encountering more cheesy pop territory on ‘Boys wanna fight’, it’s decidedly non-goth angst title only hinting at the apparently forcible mainstream-ization of the song at large. The chorus, along with Shirley Manson repeatedly vowing to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol, sound little more than the fruit of a recording session scheduled immediately after an uncomfortable board meeting where unreasonably optimistic sales figures for ‘Bleed Like Me’ were quoted. And yet, I like the song; it’s easily the most electronica-laced track on the album, but contains a fair amount of shrieking guitars to keep the decibel level in line with the other songs on the record. The politics hinted at in the lyrics are cute, even endearing. ‘Run baby run’, is another winner, where the group locate and maintain a balance between the guitars and vocals. Resembling a cross between ‘Breaking up the Girl’ and ‘I think I’m Paranoid’, it’s a pure pop tune that works with nary an electronic beep/boop, and a satisfying wheeee of the guitars before it launches into the chorus. It’s not a lot to ask of a group featuring the dude who produced records by Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, you understand. And it’s not like Garbage are a garage group, where we might expect them to screw things up deliberately, and subsequently praise their fidelity to the genre.
It can’t last, however. ‘Why don’t you come over’ returns us to mediocre mode, and the oestrogen-fueled ‘Sex is not the Enemy’ doesn’t really work as the advocate of fornication and promiscuity that it’s designed to function as. The puzzlingly lengthy closer ‘Happy Home’ fails to impress as well, and is especially let down by an excessively long guitar outro that meanders on to a close with no fanfare, like the band had run out of ideas, and were experimenting , just in case something cool came of it. It didn’t.
I want to call Bleed Like Me Garbage’s sellout album, but all of Garbage’s material is exactly that. The difference was that the other records sounded comfortable in their skins, as beautifully blistered and lightly tattooed as they were. Bleed Like Me’s tragic shortcoming is that it fails to attract even the anachronistic mid-90s teenager it seems to be tailor-made for. Everything here sounds too contrived, but ill-practiced and unfamiliar at the same time. It doesn’t sound like conventional 21st century alternative or indie, but does sound like debut material from a young band, circa 1994, attempting to pull something original out of all their influences. If this sounds familiar, then you’re thinking what I’m thinking: this is actually an elaborate April Fools hoax, authorized by the faceless drones at Geffen themselves, to jokingly release a set of retrospective B-sides as fresh new album material, hence luring the fans in before an eventual live DVD release, and the inevitable breakup announcement. No? Ok, but I’d still recommend sticking to the first two albums, if not to revel in the conspiracy-free circumstances under which they were recorded, then at least to enjoy a fuller, more developed sound.