Oh hey! I'm Sam Lansky, music writer and arguably the least "rock-and-roll" person you'll ever meet. This is my column, "Pop Think," which is getting an unusually edgy takeover this week (normally I write about Taylor Swift or Rihanna) as I succumb to my current musical obsession: The electro-alt-pop outfit Garbage, who are back in rare form with a new album, Not Your Kind Of People (out next week), and a higher-profile new space in the public consciousness than they've had in the better part of a decade.
Now, I may not have been a Garbage super-fan back in the day (I was only a wee lad when their self-titled album dropped back in 1995, and the follow-up, 1998's Version 2.0 was released just as I was developing a growing cognizance about music), but I had enough familiarity with their work to know that what they were doing was special: Version 2.0 remains one of my most listened-to albums ever, and the eventual follow-up, 2001's Beautiful Garbage, was another album I loved. But hey, I'm a pop enthusiast at heart, and I could only play "When I Grow Up" so many times before I'd get distracted.
That's why it's such a joy to hear a few spins of their new album, which sounds perfectly poised between the riotous, guitar-driven pop-rock of the '90s and the sinister electro vibe of some dystopic future. Sound the alarm: This crunchy electro-rock record might just turn out to be my favorite pop album of the year.
As they step back into the spotlight with their fifth studio album, Garbage has already left a legacy on the current generation of performers that's inestimable: Katy Perry and Marina and the Diamonds claim frontwoman Shirley Manson as an influence, and Manson's known to have taken tastemaking chanteuse Sky Ferreira under her wing, helping to shape her sound. (This week, Sky tweeted, "My big sissy's new album is out!") But their genre-bending, influence-melding sound broke the monotony of '90s grunge and made it fresher and more breathlessly dense than their contemporaries had. Few others besides Garbage could maintain the delicate juggling act of innovation and risk-taking with the fundamental likability that gets music on the radio. Their fan base remains passionate -- so much so that their first NYC concert in seven years, coming up on May 22, sold out in seconds. (Thank the music gods that MTV Hive is streaming the concert live!)
Read more about Garbage's new album, Not Your Kind Of People, after the jump.
Because despite their alt-rock roots, Garbage has always maintained a pop sensibility that makes their songs tighter, hookier, and more compulsively replayable than much of what circulated on the radio in the '90s and beyond -- and on their latest record, Not Your Kind Of People, those tendencies are stronger than ever, with muscular production that showcases the sharpness of the songcraft rather than overwhelming it. But then, that's one of the things that characterized Garbage's reign over rock radio through the '90s and the early part of the last decade: While lesser artists expressed some rebellious, anti-establishment impulse through an entropic sound-garble, Garbage made supremely listenable pop music, then made it revolutionary with layers of distortion, a countercultural lyrical bent, and integrating wildly disparate sonic influences.
If the influences don't seem quite as broad in their scope on Not Your Kind Of People, that's because they're not: It's what Garbage has always done best, done better. The opening track, "Automatic Systematic Habit," is ragingly anthemic with its walls of squealing synths and Shirley Manson's husky, filtered vocals intoning, "Lies, lies, lies/ You love those lies!" while "Big Bright World" serves "When I Grow Up" realness with low drums leading into an explosive chorus. But maybe the best of all is the neo-psychedelia of the title track, with its big sing-along refrain: "We are not your kind of people/ Don't want to be like you ever in our lives/ We are not your kind of people/ Find when you start talking, nothing but white noise." Coos of vocals fill up the production, a euphoric lighters-in-the-air moment that reminds me why they've always been so great.
And now with the changing nature of the pop marketplace, there's more space than ever for Garbage to find a new generation of fans and carve out a space among the other brilliant artists making searingly good pop. Before, in an industry flooded with acts trying to do what Garbage does so effortlessly, there was competition. Now, they're unrivaled, and we listeners get to reap the benefits.