- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

Garbage

Bleed Like Me

Geffen Records

A faint, decade-old smell is permeating the air this year. For someone who’s had it up to here with 1980s new-wave and post-punk retreads (the Killers, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Bravery, ad infinitum), this is agreeable news — even at the cost of seeing that guy from Hootie & the Blowfish hawking fast food on TV.

Beck is back with Dust Brothers, the production duo that helped create the delirious noise of 1996’s “Odelay.” Their recently released collaboration, “Guero,” is as good as everyone says it is. Also, Graham Coxon, the guitarist alum of high-‘90s Brit-rockers Blur, not long ago put out one of the most satisfying listens of the year thus far, “Happiness in Magazines.”

Now there’s a new one from Garbage, that band of egghead producers (Duke Erikson, Butch Vig and Steve Marker) who back trash-talking, fishnet-sporting vixen Shirley Manson.

Every decade has its minor highlights.

Garbage caught a ride on the grunge wave with its self-titled 1995 album. (Mr. Vig, it should be said, was more than just a follower: He produced some of the movement’s most important albums, including Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”) Two more albums followed, plus an opening slot on U2’s 2001 tour. Then Mr. Vig came down with a case of hepatitis A, forcing him to bail from the U2 caravan. Later, a cyst silenced Miss Manson’s singing voice.

With those bad vibes preceding the sessions for a fourth LP, Garbage temporarily ground to a halt. Some, but not all, members characterize the period as a breakup.

The band, and Miss Manson’s pipes, rallied. “Bleed Like Me” is the result, an appropriately angry-sounding disc with lots of lacerating guitar riffs and irate lyrics about love and the cruel, cruel world. And boy does it all sound Clinton-era. Sure, there are hints of political protest in “Metal Heart,” but they’re vague enough to fit anywhere.

If Courtney Love had taken this tack on her solo debut last year, she might have stimulated pleasant memories of Hole. As it is, her archenemy, Dave Grohl, drops by for a ferocious drum track on opener “Bad Boyfriend,” a dingy, come-hither proposal from Miss Manson.

Garbage is known for high production values, which are in full bloom here, along with some extra six-string wattage. (Each member boasts electric-guitar credits.) “Bleed” rocks with an industrial, always-in-control iciness. Mr. Vig is the band’s drummer, but push-button percussion is never far behind. Rockers like “Right Between the Eyes,” “Why Do You Love Me” and “The Boys Wanna Fight” are suitable for easy conversion for house DJs.

The boys of the band may possess most of the technological know-how, but Miss Manson makes Garbage sound human; her serpentine melodies on the title track (she produces an eerie choir that repeats the line “You should see my scars) and “Happy Home” (which is anything but: “You taste like toxic poison/I wash my hands of you,” she sings) are flesh to her band mates’ machinery. Miss Manson even turns in a conventional ballad, “It’s All Over but the Crying,” which borders on the maudlin.

Messrs. Erikson, Vig and Marker were wise to seek a woman’s touch when they formed this oh-so-20th-century band.

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