New Garbage is pretty disposable

Jon Dieringer

Credit: Beth Rankin

Garbage formed 12 years ago, throwing themselves at the mercy of unfavorable critics’ uninspired puns by naming themselves to comment on the disposable nature of popular music.

Conceptually, this places them as a glammed up, mall-goth version of Devo—but on their fourth album, Bleed Like Me, it also makes for a tragically self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bleed Like Me is both wonderful and frightening in that it confronts the listener — this one, at least — with the realization that we have reached a post-everything cultural climate: post-punk, post-industrial, post-grunge and even post-Post, (the 1995 Bjork album that more or less already acknowledged the aforementioned).

Either this is a frustrating dive into uncharted territory for postmodern songwriting, or Garbage now makes mediocre songs simply because they are capable of nothing better.

I suspect it’s the latter; or, to adapt a phrase of Henry Miller’s, Garbage has inadvertently created a beautiful bell at the expense of a tongue. Garbage’s once innovative mélange of grunge, goth and industrial now feels harmless as a stroll through Linkin Park.

They are disposable.

But accepting as a given that they burned through most of their ideas on their near-brilliant debut album with enough juice left to coast through the next two on passing grades, there are still bits and pieces — a hook here, a melody there — of note.

As a whole, “Run Baby Run” is easily the album’s best track, starting out with gilded lead guitar on heavy delay playing over a noisy My Bloody Valentine rhythm before giving away to a Wild Mood Swings-era Cure bassline.

But when the references to other bands are too self-evident, the album falls hard and never recovers. The album’s title track, the one that establishes the thematic context for the rest of the record, is an embarrassingly obvious rip-off of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” affecting crude sketches of Hubert Selby Jr.-(un)worthy losers in a way dictated more by rhyme than any sort of human truth.

To their credit, it’s not Garbage’s fault so many other bands have sprung up to either take their sound further or destroy its integrity, and it’s better to hear an honest failure from a band with nowhere left to explore than a fraudulent change of sound for its own sake.

Garbage, it would seem, simply has nowhere left to go. They have reached the hour of their coup de grâce: now it’s time for the final curtain call, a merciful bow to Rock ‘n’ Roll Euthanasia, a disposal to cease all disposability. Wonderful! — but frightening.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Jon Dieringer at [email protected].