2.5 stars (out of 4)
After a seven-year hiatus, alternative-rock-era veterans Garbage return with their fifth studio album, “Not Your Kind of People” (STUNVOLUME), an earnest attempt to recapture the magic of 1995.
Back then, the quartet ran off a string of hits by playing off the tension between Scottish singer Shirley Manson’s no-nonsense personality and the precise, robot-like rock thrown up by her studio-geek bandmates from Madison, Wis., including uber-producer/drummer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Green Day). The group’s perfectionist tendencies eventually watered down the albums and likely played no small part in its break-up. Now, vestiges of that approach remain, especially on opening track “Automatic Systematic Habit,” welded together with the machine-like perfection of a Katy Perry juggernaut.
It’s not a particularly appealing look or sound for this band, reducing Manson to just another ornament in the sensory overload. Fortunately, things pick up a bit after that, thanks to a few sonic surprises, notably the harmonica riff in “Control” and the Alice-in-Wonderland psychedelia of the title song. “Blood for Poppies” rides an insidiously nasty guitar riff and a Clash-worthy Eastern vibe to spin out a tale told from the perspective of a soldier in Afghanistan – as comeback singles go, it’s difficult to deny.
Most of the rest holds up as credible but hardly ground-breaking pop-rock, an album that proves Garbage still exists even if it hasn’t necessarily come up with any new tricks. In general, there’s less reliance on the electronic layering that characterized the quartet’s early albums and more on straight-up rock-combo performance. In “Big Bright World,” Manson sings that “we’ll rage against the dying light,” but as her dreamy vocals float over the rushing guitars and drums, rage isn’t what she communicates. It’s reassurance.