As an admirer of Garbage since my first encounter with their 1995 hit track, “Stupid Girl”, I have kept an eye on the band that represented the zeitgeist of the late Grunge era. Garbage was an ersatz superband comprised of the godfather of Grunge, Butch Vig and his grunge cohorts Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. To top off their Grunge breeding and impeccable taste, the trio introduced to the larger world the exciting Shirley Manson. Manson would, in turn, provide unforgettably, moxie filled lead woman performances.
Since that time, Garbage has never ceased to amaze. Every few years, they seemed to emerge, displaying their wide-ranging musical prowess as they weighed in on society’s most challenging dilemmas. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to their latest release, No Gods, No Masters, their seventh studio entry and was not disappointed.
No Gods, No Masters follows their 2016 release, Strange Little Birds. Immediately the contrast is palpable. Where Strange Little Birds was more personal and saw Manson take on personal demons and emotions, No Gods, No Masters is an audacious commentary on our world’s current condition. The new release displays the results of each band member struggling to come to terms with exactly what is going on in our Covid and post Covid world.
The album had its beginnings in the summer of 2018 in Palm Springs, CA. Garbage produced it along with long time collaborator Billy Bush. The release contains many overt protest songs that call out the injustices of Capitalism, Sexism, Racism, and misogyny. Manson, in particular, has for decades been a stalwart spokesperson against any discrimination and unfair treatment. Keeping that in mind, the content is not surprising as the band has mastered the ability throughout their discography to lyrically cut the BS and get to the heart of the problem. Garbage on this outing looks to using the subversive pop of bands like Roxy Music to deliver their message. Cleverly they hook the listener with approachable Pop sonics and unleash the message.
The tracklist is eclectic, with each song dwelling in its own universe, cinematic at times, intensely brooding, then turning on a dime and being sunlit. Sonically the songs cover a wide palette of hard Industrial, frenetic Pop, New Wave, Alternative snark and brooding dystopic dread stomps. The listener will pick up echoes of Bowie, Siouxie Sioux, Pat Benatar, The Cure and Joy Division as all of this recent rock iconography is processed through Garbage’s unique sonic viewpoint and made uniquely their own.
The jaw-dropping opener “The Men Who Rule the World” is a statement of intent for the release. It excoriates those in power where the violator destroys the violated. “The Creeps” is a frenetic yet easily recognizable New Wave track. The message is more subversive but totally infectious. “Uncomfortable Me” is classic Garbage in sonics and topic. An ode to the awkwardness that showcases Manson’s voice as it deftly displays how we all feel insecure and exposed.
From the first note, “Wolves” is a free-wheeling examination of Narcissism run amok. Catchy as hell, it is a “Must Listen to” track. Manson utilizes the power of her come hither vocal treatment to deliver the killing blow to users and opportunists. “Godhead” is a solid slice of alternative goodness and tribute to Bowie, utterly audacious and confrontational. “Anonymous XXX” contains that expansive trademark sound Garbage has become famous for delivering. Contained are detachment and isolation while blending with the softer marimba and flamenco guitar to provide a touch of warmth. “A Woman Destroyed” is an epic track of dystopic brooding and betrayal, seemingly the most personal piece on the release.
My favourite track is “Flipping the Bird, " gloriously filled with Cure bass and Joy Division ethos and that intangible Garbage sheen. It is a time machine back to the late ’80s and ’90s. Manson delivers a satisfying knee to the privates to all the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals of our current age. This track is worth the price of admission. The title track “No Gods, No Masters” displays Garbage running on all cylinders with energy and New Wave goodness abounding. No icon is spared as the lyrics let all the sacred cows have in it smack in the face.
A close runner up to my favourite track is the closer “This City Will Kill You”. Garbage albums seem always to contain that one track that is perfect Cinematic Noir. The track that sticks with you and won’t let go, becoming your deep track favourite. For me, this is the one. It follows in the tradition of Garbage songs like “Take Me Home”, “ It’s All Over But the Crying”, “ You Look So Fine”, and “ The Trick is Keep Breathing”. Manson expands to her full singing power on each of these tracks and is something to experience. This selection is why I love Garbage as it displays all of their skills and is an excellent signoff.
No Gods, No Masters is an unapologetic look at the state of society and humankind circa 2021. It is a must for veteran Garbage fans. The release is an inspiring and sometimes challenging outing that ultimately pays off fantastically. Garbage delivers a release that is quintessentially Garbage yet completely in touch with the current age. Garbage with No Gods, No Masters adds another success to their discography.