Shirley Manson, who once seemed pretty damn sure she was paranoid and confidently belted that she was only happy when it rained, continues this unlikely juxtaposition of emotions on Garbage’s fourth studio offering, Bleed Like Me. But this time, the band does it with a harder edge than ever.
Taking a glance at the disc’s song titles- “Why Do You Love Me,” “Bleed Like Me” and “It’s all Over but the Crying” -might suggest that Garbage has dived into the depths of material laced with insecurity and desperation. And it wouldn’t be an unfounded conclusion, considering the making of the album involved a great deal of internal fighting, which almost resulted in the band breaking up. But as much as Bleed Like Me is unsure and scarred, it is venomous and upfront. Spotlighting crunchy guitars and straightforward melodies, while downplaying the electronic clutter, the band delivers its toughest and most solid material to date.
The raunchy opener, “Bad Boyfriend,” positions Manson as a vixen who can be as sexually powerful as she is seductive. She proclaims, “If you can’t love me honey/ Go on just pretend/C’mon baby, be my bad boyfriend,” over a sluggish-yet-hard rocking backdrop that features pulsating drums from special guest Dave Grohl. The disc quickly moves into more melodic territory, as Manson conjures the likes of Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde on the wary pop anthems, “Run Baby Run” and “Right between the Eyes.”
“Why do You Love Me,” the first single, sports a cutting guitar riff and repetitive chorus that meld to create a sound Garbage drummer and famed producer Butch Vig describes as “sped-up girl group.” A similar frenetic aggressiveness is present on “Why Don’t You Come Over,” a half-warning, half-dare directed at the object of Manson’s angst.
Fans of 1998’s Version 2.0 will admire “Metal Heart,” which begins innocently enough but explodes into a techno romp accompanied by slightly disturbing lyrics. Here, Manson proves she is as paranoid as ever. “I wish I wasn’t flesh and blood/I would not be scared/Of bullets built with me in mind/For then I could be saved.”
Slower songs, such as the title track, balance the mix. Here, Manson stages a call-to-arms for all the emotionally unstable self-abusers of the world, set to a simple arrangement carried to its end by the sing-song repetition of “you should see my scars.” “Happy Home” is an epic closer that finishes with a two-and-a-half minute instrumental buildup wavering from hopeful to dark, all while managing to avoid sounding pretentious.
Bleed Like Me proves that Garbage can still masterfully sound wounded and triumphantly vicious at the same time. Not only does the music rock harder than on any of the band’s previous three releases, Manson’s lyrics are more revealing, personal and biting. You’ll likely want to give her a hug after it’s over but will think twice for fear she’ll kick your ass if you come too close.