A quarter of a century has passed, and Shirley Manson still wants to tear your little world apart — especially if you support the patriarchies and idiocracies destroying the planet. On Garbage’s seventh offering, No Gods No Masters (a slogan for anarchists and labor unions alike), Garbage’s redheaded Molotov cocktail explodes at evangelicals apathetically offering prayers after shootings, “The Men Who Rule the World,” shitty men in general (in case they don’t rule the world), and, as is often the case on a Garbage record, herself. She broods her venom with glorious vigor throughout, as her bandmates teeter between new wave and industrial stomp depending on the mood of the song, and together they command one memorable pop melody after another as if nothing has changed since 1995 in the best way possible.
On No Gods No Masters, Garbage finally have a sure footing in the sounds and sentiments that made them great originally. After Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera coaxed the spotlight away from Garbage as pop hit makers in the late Nineties, the band toyed around with their sound, which started out as a beautifully bizarre mixture of trip-hop, grunge, and synth-rock on their self-titled 1995 debut. Sometimes they’d go a little too pop (the supremely catchy “Androgyny”) or a little too punk (“Why Do You Love Me,” their last Top 100 hit). They always sounded like Garbage, but it wasn’t until 2016’s Strange Little Birds that they made an album as consistently Garbage since 1998’s Version 2.0.
That flame still burns on No Gods No Masters. Part of the fuel is Manson’s turgid contempt for injustice, but what makes the record so good is how the rest of Garbage matches her tone perfectly with keyboard glitches, buzzsaw guitar, and clever but never obtrusive rhythm loops. On “The Men Who Rule the World,” they reimagine Bowie’s Young Americans as an industro-pop funk while Manson rails against the Richie Riches funding the destruction of Earth’s environment. It’s like Nine Inch Nails’ downward spiral if Trent Reznor turned his hatred outward and used a mirror ball. Garbage summon the same power, in inverse proportion, on the quiet “Waiting for God,” a powerful Black Lives Matter–inspired elegy for black Americans who died “riding their bike or [for being] guilty of walking alone.” It’s chilling, arresting, and beautiful at the same time. “Who have we become?” Manson asks, her voice harmonizing with itself like a chorus of angels.
Manson’s personal demons present themselves on “The Creeps,” an ode to how depressing it is to see a cutout of yourself at a front-lawn yard sale set to new-wave keyboards à la Berlin’s “The Metro,” and “Wolves,” an apology for letting friends down in the past with a chorus (“No one can say that I didn’t love you”) that she sings in a quirky, instantly memorable way. On “Godhead,” she whispers vulgarities like, “Would you deceive me if I had a dick?/Would you know it/Would you blow it?” with the intention of skewering religious leaders who decided God is a man.
Her breakup-revenge fantasy, “A Woman Destroyed,” is set to a piercing, horror film score, and the album closer “This City Will Kill You” pairs sweetly descending guitar, Bond-theme horns, and a light trap beat as Manson wonders “Why was I the one to survive?” But those two are separated by “Flipping the Bird” and “No Gods No Masters,” a couple more new-wavey middle fingers directed at conceited men, that show how adept Garbage are at pairing sweet melodies with noisy textures. But for all of the group’s abundant signature moves on No Gods No Masters, the record never feels like a nostalgia bid. That’s because after 26 years, Garbage know who they are and are comfortable with themselves. It’s the men who rule the world who should feel uncomfortable.