One thing you can say about Shirley Manson: The scrappy Scottish firebrand certainly never minces any words. When the Inch Community Center in her native Edinburgh—where she once practiced music as a kid, long before she began fronting a succession of groups that included Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, Angelfish and her breakthrough outfit Garbage—was facing a recent shuttering in a sale to private developers, she penned a heartfelt plea to save it.
Annually, over 20,000 pass through the doors of said edifice, which dates back to the 1600s, and—even though repair costs would total roughly $1.5 million—she pointed out the bottom line in the cold, clinical transaction: Humanity itself was getting lost in the corporate shuffle.
“I am no politician—I am sure running a city is more complicated than I can possibly imagine,” she wrote. “However, sometimes the value of things must not be— cannot be—judged in monetary terms alone.”
And that, in a nutshell, is what propels Strange Little Birds, the latest epistle from Garbage, its sixth. The theme surfaces on the opening explosion “Sometimes” (“I learn more when I am bleeding/ You knock me down but I get up,” Manson snarls); the juggernaut “Empty” (“I’ve been feeling so frustrated/ I’ll never be as great as I want to be”); a bass-heavy, Joy Division-ish “Blackout” (with the modern reality-show mantra “Fake it ‘til you make it”); a buzzing, synth-driven “Magnetized” (“There will be no future tense for us”); and the sinister “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed,” in which the singer states unequivocally that she’s “Getting desperate, desperate for a revolution in these dangerous days/ I need to understand why we kill the things we love the most.”