In a year of big, brilliant releases from the likes of Wolf Alice, Du Blonde, St Vincent, Japanese Breakfast, and Olivia Rodrigo, it feels good to hear from a band that lit the way. Torchbearers for the outsiders, the misfits, the marginalised, Garbage never shy away from dissent: from songs like ‘Queer’ on their 1995 debut album and 2001’s trans anthem ‘Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)’, to lead singer Shirley Manson’s spell as highly politicised poster girl, to the music itself, coiling away from dominant nineties trends.
To call their seventh album ‘No Gods No Masters’ – a slogan kicked around by anarchists, feminists, writers, and punks since the nineteenth century – feels very on-brand. Even the record’s cover art looks like a grown-up-but-still-galvanised version of Garbage’s self-titled debut: a double-platinum record that ignited a decades-long juggle between commercial success and a rebellious outlook.
Rebellion still rules on ‘No Gods No Masters’, the title track a manifesto for the album, hurtling Human League-style through a world governed by mortality and meaninglessness. Patriarchy and misogyny are thrown in the garbage on ‘The Men Who Rule The World’ who “have made a fucking mess”, a line delivered with all the glorious simplicity of Alan Bennett’s “History is women following behind with the bucket.” On ‘Godhead’, Manson asks “Would you deceive me if I had a dick?” amid synths that slice the air just in front of your face. They’ll skin the tips of your ears and nose if you’re not careful.
Menace finds full form on ‘A Woman Destroyed’. “Don’t walk home in the dark alone,” Manson warns, subverting female street safety, at a dirge-like pace already introduced on ‘Waiting For God’ – a grief-stricken condemnation of American racism. The record’s flagrant politics escapes self-aggrandisement: the band seem genuine and heartfelt in their outrage.
Industrial thrum and gothic electronic rock never let up, but not every song pulses with anger. ‘Anonymous XXX’ channels assertive sleaze, there’s some good old-fashioned Pet Shop Boys fun on ‘Flipping The Bird’, ‘Wolves’ recalls nineties Garbage in music and lyrics alike, while ‘The Creeps’ turns a bad day – being dropped by Interscope and driving home past a life-size Garbage poster peddled for a few bucks in a garage sale – into an anthem for picking yourself up: “I’m gonna find my way around this world I cannot change”.
Even in these moments of vulnerability, the record maintains defiant strength. ‘Uncomfortably Me’, written under the deep fuzz of two mescal chili cocktails, details Manson’s anxieties – “Spend every day wishing my life away / Always so nervous and unsure of myself” – but in showing weakness, the admissions become an eternally relevant outsider anthem.
‘No Gods No Masters’ proves exactly why Garbage have inspired a ferocious new generation of female artists. Defiance is here to stay – thirty years on, the world still needs it. Preferably accompanied by mescal.