Monday, July 05, 2021

Garbage give a big ‘f’ you with ‘No Gods No Masters’

After an unprecedented year, we have been graced by ‘No Gods No Masters’, the seventh studio album from the timeless, genre-bending titans, Garbage. Twenty-five years later, they remain as relevant and forward-thinking as ever, unashamedly calling out topics that cut right to the bone.

The album was created predominantly between 2019 and 2020, however, planned recording sessions had to be postponed due to the infamous events of the latter year. Good things come to those who wait, though, and this album is a lot of good things, whether this is a result of the delay in its release, or just the culmination of a matured band who still have a ton to say, both musically and ideologically.


Garbage first blew up on the scene with their debut self-titled album in 1995, fuelled by the motivation of challenging the male-dominated rock genre whilst also bringing a fresh musicality to it, and fusing their sound with the popular heavy-grunge riffs popular at the time. Singer Shirley Manson’s husky, breathy vocals compliment the band’s edgy sound, and the legendary producer/drummer Butch Vig expertly blends alt-rock with a range of styles. Their sound was ultimately born out of necessity as well as desire; the band knew that they had to stand out from the sea of grunge bands at the time.


Butch Vig is famous for producing Nirvana’s hit album ‘Nevermind’ along with albums by Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, and so many more. Working this closely in the development of a signature grunge sound meant that Vig was in a unique position to observe what might be lacking in the genre and how to evolve the sound further than any had attempted before. The refreshing pastiche of sounds, made simpler by the use of samplers and electronic recording equipment becoming more advanced, has inspired many artists since, ranging from Amy Lee of Evanescence to Lady Gaga.


‘No Gods No Masters’ does not hold back in terms of subject matter. It begins with ‘The Men Who Rule the World’ and despite its almost playful reference to arcade games, a slightly jarring yet catchy beat punches through any misconceptions that this might be any old indie-rock tune. Rather, it is a track that calls out the greed of humanity and the abuse of wealth and power. Within an album that expresses palpable anger towards white male dominance, this song features an anthemic voice for the downtrodden and the side-lined ‘outsiders’. These are topics that Shirley Manson is very vocal about, from LGBTQIA+ rights, and freedom from oppression against women and children, to fighting the impact of  diseases such as cancer and AIDS through charitable work. Manson always uses her platform to bring awareness to such issues, and to call out corruption; to her, this is not a bandwagon effort.


Religion is another topic intertwined throughout the album’s themes. In the music video for the title track, the band draws back the curtain on what the role of ‘Gods’ might be in a way that is perhaps reflective of Manson’s personal ideas of religion; “The future is mine just the same / No master or Gods to obey”. In other tracks such as ‘Waiting for God’ and ‘Godhead’, there is no doubt that there is an element of cynicism towards traditional religion, but the focus is on how religious power can be abused. This is especially prevalent in the desolate ‘Waiting for God’, a track that embodies almost all the horrors that have come sharply into focus over the past year; “Smiling at fireworks that light all our skies up / While black boys get shot in the back” is a clear reference to the disproportionate murder of black people in the United States of America, not least at the hands of the police force. The song ends with Manson reciting lines from The Lord’s Prayer, one of the most well-known Christian texts from the New Testament.


‘No Gods No Masters’ is a double-disc feature, incorporating depth, and cynicism, but humour as well. ‘Flipping the Bird’ is another way of phrasing ‘showing someone the middle finger’, and in the track ‘Anonymous XXX’, the wavering guitar sounds like something from the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction’ and is complemented by a groovy, trance-like beat. Such tracks maintain the feeling that these musicians are enjoying themselves as they are playing.


The second disc in the album features a haunting cover of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and Patti Smith’s ‘Because the Night’, and the song ‘Girl’s Talk’ features a cameo from Brody Dalle, the raspy frontwoman of The Distillers. The album as a whole is a sonic treat and one that you will want to listen to over and over again. The band’s passion is truly tangible in their work. In my eyes, Garbage have now established themselves as all-rounders with a real character and flair. Their career has spanned 25 years and their influence has extended to countless musicians in various genres; they’re well on their way to the Rock’ n’ Roll hall of fame.


Helena Pliotis 


Image: No Gods No Monsters Official Album Artwork

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