Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson writes brooding lyrics that perfectly express typical post-breakup feelings. Garbage’s Bleed Like Me swings wildly between impassioned anger and depression, fits of hopefulness and violent cries of masochism and sadism. The overwhelming capacity for emotional depth found in the songs on Garbage’s first album since 2001 stands as a modern anthem for breakups — an attitudinal successor to Beck’s Sea Change. However, it’s ultimately a flawed album.

Music Reviews

Garbage’s success began in 1995 with their self-titled release and subsequent radio hits “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When it Rains.” The quartet’s addictive pop melodies and alt-rock energy brought them MTV popularity, and Manson’s in-your-face moodiness and powerful vocals made Garbage a staple in the post-Nirvana ’90s.

Manson is still somewhat plagued by the mid-’90s “apathy is cool” bug; it can be difficult to find a solid personality underneath her manic-depressive lyrics. Sometimes she’s just downright cynical (“We don’t know where to turn / ’Cause we’ve all been used”), and elsewhere she gives off vibes that she’s suicidal (“Life’s a bitch / And then you die / My love”). Manson uses intimidation with her fiery anger and bitter wit as a poetic device to cope with her pain.

Because of Manson’s constant sourness, any hopeful sentiment comes across delicately and quietly on Bleed Like Me. Amid Butch Vig’s industrial drumming and Steve Marker’s sizzling guitar, the album’s title track features Manson’s crafty, Lou Reed-esque phrasing and detailed storytelling. This standout track features the polished production that only Vig, who formerly worked with Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, can provide. His notorious studio perfection shines as strings and flutes weave in and out of the layered melodies to create four-part harmonies.

Bleed Like Me has the potential to be a great contemporary breakup album. While the production is well organized, chord progressions and song structures are too predictable. Each song follows a rote pattern: screeching opening, toned-down verse, saturated chorus, a semi-progressive bridge and a polished outro. The distorted guitar, bass and drum combo that made Garbage famous hasn’t been tweaked or reworked except for a few minor instances of electronic modification.

Despite its homogeneity, Bleed Like Me is a fairly enjoyable album because of Manson’s intimacy. There’s something to be said about the way she forcefully dishes out her emotions without sounding too contrived. Thousands of musicians have recorded songs about pain, but few sound as honest as Manson when, on “Happy Home,” she admits, “I never once in my sweet short life / Meant anybody harm.”

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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