Garbage has built a name for itself as one of the seminal alternative rock bands of the ’90s, driven to success by drummer Butch Vig’s production talent and lead singer Shirley Manson’s powerful voice. Known for beautifully dark lyrics that not only dive into the human psyche but also hold mirrors up to societal issues, Garbage’s 7th album, No Gods No Masters finds the band sharply critiquing the shortcomings of the world we live in.
No Gods No Masters grapples largely with identity, as the band has done on many of its previous albums. The record bears many similarities to the band’s last release, 2016’s Strange Little Birds, in terms of rawness and personal trials woven into the music. Garbage’s level of reliability to its fan base has always been high, a true testament to us always dealing with the same problems, no matter how much time has passed. This album is the band’s reassurance that it will always be there to let you know you’re not alone and that they get it.
While members of Garbage have always been outspoken, not only in their music but also on social media, No Gods No Masters is a much-needed modern exposition of all the societal issues that desperately need fixing. “The Men Who Rule the World” starts off the album with the sound of a slot machine going off, dissolving into an ominous electronic beat. The track is nothing short of scathing; the disdain dripping off of Manson’s voice is crystal clear. “The men who rule the world/ Have made a fucking mess,” she sings bluntly, calling out capitalism, racism, misogyny and everything in between.
“The Creeps” is a frantic song, shifting gears toward a personal moment of despair for Manson when she was dropped from Interscope Records. The distorted guitar sounds like anxiety buzzing around you, accurately capturing the song’s name. A technically as well as emotionally moving song, it showcases the pure talent of Garbage and its ability to evoke such specific feelings from listeners. Manson’s voice has the optimal amount of autotune and electronic distortion to fit the mood of the song without compromising her distinct sound.
Garbage’s electronic rock sound shines on the record, with “Godhead” being the peak of the band’s heavy, industrial explorations. Manson’s initial whispering is a gripping contrast to the pounding backbeat and tasteful distortion. The song tackles sexism head-on, but instead of coming off as entirely negative, it morphs into a stunning alpha female ode. But not every song on No Gods No Masters makes you want to bang your head into a wall in frustration. “This City Will Kill You” is a softer song of comfort, contrary to its name. However, it still packs a punch with its emotional weight.
The deluxe version of the album also treats fans to covers of David Bowie’s “Starman” and Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” as well as various featured artists, including Brody Dalle of The Distillers and Brian Aubert from Silversun Pickups, with each song taking on the genre of the featured musician. The covers perfectly blend Garbage’s style of music with the same emotion the original musicians crafted on their respective songs, restrained when necessary as to not detract from the uniqueness of each song but still putting out an energized recording. On “Because the Night” in particular, it’s easy to get carried away with the intensity of the song, sacrificing the more gentle moments that give the tune nuance. Garbage’s rendition instead has a subdued chorus but some quality guitar solos to keep the tempo up.
It’s clear Garbage means business on No Gods No Masters. With its captivating alternative rock base and just enough electronic music to keep things interesting, the album is as catchy as it is savage. The band has never been one to shy away from calling out the evils in the world, and this album proves the band is far from losing its edge.