Review Summary: With an overbearing presence, the guitar holds down a nice rhythm on Garbage's fourth album whilst Shirley pours her heart into the vocals with a lot of energy to make their best album to date.
Garbage are a alternative rock band that rose to fame with the release of their critically and commercially successful 1995 self-titled debut. They were formed in 1994 and quickly realized that they needed a female on vocals so as to best fit their musical style. They swiftly found Shirley Manson, the singer who would go on to influence a generation of female-fronted alternative rock band due to her supposedly seductive voice and fairly wide range. Many people consider the band to have reached their pinnacle on their second album entitled Version 2.0 but I disagree as I feel their best album was 2005's Bleed Like Me. This album was released to yet more praise for the band, albeit not as much as its predecessors. It is their fourth studio album and is probably their most straightforward rock album.
The instrumental performance on this album is a little tighter than the band had achieved on their previous releases. The guitars are very loud in the mix and are thoroughly enjoyable. The guitar work that drives the opening song Bad Boyfriend shows off the nature of the instrumental performance on this release-it is very simplistic, utilizing only a few chords, but it suits the band and allows Shirley to show off as vocalist. Steve Marker's guitar performance is very good on this release, with the introduction to the title track in particular showing how good he is at keeping a rhythm for the band. The drumming is nothing special but certainly holds down a consistent beat for the rest of the band to build off and the bass guitar is a nice presence that is audible on some songs such as the title track. The synthesizers are not quite as prominent as they were on the past albums by this band but are still there and add a little more musical depth that actually holds the songs together quite well.
The one thing that everyone who listens to Garbage has an opinion about is the vocal performance from Shirley Manson. This woman is somewhat of an eccentric personality and that is what makes her such an effective front for the band. Her past experiences with self-harming and bullying show in the lyrics and open up a new market for this band in people that can relate with those experiences, whereas her seductive voice will ensnare many of the male community. The band really could not have chose a better person to sing for this band and front for them at shows, and her performance on this album is brilliant. She can hit some really nice high notes on the title track during the "you can see my scars" section, but also has a sweet lower register such as on Bad Boyfriend and loud rock number Why Don't You Come Over. This album best shows off her range, which was not quite as present on their first two albums and is the main reason why this topples Version 2.0 and their self-titled album.
The production is another factor that makes this release considerably better than the three albums that came before it. Every instrument is perfectly mixed so that everything is constantly audible, unlike the first two albums on which the bass was mixed out completely and the vocals were too loud. Here, everything holds its own presence, such as the guitar which is loud but not to the point where it is a burden on the overall sound of the album. As a counter to this however there is one factor that lets this album down a little and that is the fact that Shirley Manson is not the best of lyricists out there. She gets the job done alright but this release would arguably be a 5/5 rock album were the lyrics a little better written. Songs like Happy Home really do not show off the best of Shirley's lyrics, unlike the title track where she is on her A-game. This is also not a one hundred percent consistent album, as songs like the aforementioned Happy Home can not hope to live up to the best cuts here which as Bad Boyfriend and the title track. However, this is definitely still an album that I highly recommend and I feel this is the strongest work that Garbage have put out to date.