I listened to Garbage’s new album many times getting ready to write my review and it was with a heavy heart that I just couldn’t give it the same kind of raves that I had always felt for their previous albums. In the past the albums Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig, caught me right off the mark. Strange Little Birds wasn’t doing the same thing and it bothered me. I could feel that there was something I was missing. The MND’s review was summed up by the gif below and I wanted to be able get that stab to the brain.
As usual we (the MND and I) went with the vinyl and I’m glad we did. This is a bit of an aside that will probably only matter to audiophiles but compression can really make a difference to how an album sounds and feels. Compression is the process of lessening the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal. The MND likes to send be pictures of the sound images from some of the albums that were cut straight from CD’s or digital tape that look like freaking boxes. There are no peaks and valleys that indicate any range at all. The music has been turned to shit. The compression for Strange Little Birds on CD and Download are on the chart below. As you can they are red as hell and would look like the blocks of sound I’m talking about. For the album it runs at 11 right about average so well worth the investment. You are going to be able to hear what Garbage had meant it to sound like.
This was clearly a much more personal album than the ones they had done before, darker and not their usual subversive alt-pop. With lyrics like the ones from Sometimes; “Sometimes I’d rather take a beating, Sometimes I’d rather take a punch, I learn more when I am bleeding, You knock me down, then I get up.” It’s pretty clear there is a deeply felt message on this album and Garbage wants to make sure you get it but I was still not getting the same level of wow that had from all their previous albums.
Then something happened that changed the equation completely. I went to Nashville and saw them live. Let me start by saying that the concert was fucking amazing. Shirley Manson is paces the stage like a lion in a cage, feral energy just seeming to be waiting to be unleashed at any second. Then she will hit a note, rising up on her toes, like the music is being drawn right out of her soul. You don’t realize that she is an average size woman because with the help of her fellow musicians she takes over the stages and owns the theatre. They were playing at the Ryman Auditorium which was the site for the Grand Old Opry for 30 years and Shirley said more than once how amazing it was to play at the same place as so many musical greats. Still, as we sat in the long pew like benches I would say that she continued the traditions of the Ryman just fine.
So all that said, what was it that changed my mind about Strange Little Birds? I realized I hadn’t been listening to it loud enough. What I hadn’t realized was how many layers the songs had to them (and I suspect most people won’t with the compression from the electronic versions). This album is meant to be driven into your skull like a sledge hammer but at the same time lay out the timing of a Swiss watch. And yes, it really is dark as fuck. This is their album about staring into the face of the abyss and having it stare back at you but when it’s cranked up you find out there is an option of spitting in its face. As someone who has almost been sucked into that black, dark space, this is pretty amazing.
If you want an album that deals with adult issues, that has some amazing musicianship, that shows a band at the top of their game, get Strange Little Birds. But as I said listen to it loud and be prepared to walk in some rather dark places. Also get the vinyl, really if nothing else because it has one song that the CD doesn’t called FWY (Fucking With You) which is so good and is kind of joke all by itself since it’s on the side with the etching and if you don’t pay attention to when the song ends your needle is going to go skipping across the record.