Garbage — ‘No Gods No Masters’
THE GOOD: Alt-rockers Garbage return with their seventh (first in five years).
THE BAD: “No Masters” is infectious in spots, confrontational in others. But how genuine is it?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Shirley Manson and her boys offer up an album for these troubled times, with various tracks addressing the usual modern, hot-button topics. We get corporate greed (“The Men Who Ruled the World”), police brutality (“Waiting for God”), misogyny (“Godhead”), and on and on. Unfortunately, the line between sincere and trendy often gets blurred. Is Garbage for real, or is it a veteran band trying to prove its might against the new kids?
That probably depends upon the listener. I would have preferred an album with the gothic funk and swing of ’90s classics “Garbage” (1995) and “Garbage 2.0” (1998). But maybe you can’t go home again. Garbage is adjusting to the era, and it does a commendable job. Still, the record’s best moment is the danceable, sarcastic throwback “Flipping the Bird.”
BUY IT?: Your choice.
Liz Phair — ‘Soberish’
THE GOOD: Indie singer/songwriter Liz Phair is back with her seventh (first in a decade).
THE BAD: “Soberish” isn’t as memorable as her early stuff, but it’s a step in the right direction.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Phair’s catalog comes in two halves — the first three indie classics, and the second three attempts at radio-friendly pop/rock. While the later records weren’t completely terrible, there was still no comparing a cooler version of Sheryl Crow to the angst of “Exile in Guyville” (1993).
The 2010s saw Phair start and stop some projects, tour behind a 25th anniversary edition of “Guyville” and recharge her creativity. “Soberish” is the end result. While not a game-changing indie monster, the new album finds our old friend adjusting to middle age while not completely settling down.
Songs touch upon lost loves, sexual desires and too many nights at the bar. The sounds and arrangements aren’t totally safe, either. This is a woman in her mid 50s saying, “Love me or hate me. I really don’t care.” Phair is simply being real, and it’s glorious.
BUY IT?: I would.
Billie Eilish — ‘Happier Than Ever’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Billie Eilish releases her second album.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Eilish spent her teenage years in the spotlight, releasing her first hit when she was barely 15. That had to be a nightmare, but it also is what inspired much of “Happier Than Ever,” a record produced once again with her older brother, Finneas O’Connell. After last year’s pandemic abruptly canceled a world tour, Eilish and O’Connell worked on new music at their own pace without any pressure.
These new songs are defined by less electronic gimmickry and more soulful singing. Eilish often allows her voice to shine without augmentation. The beats are less prominent, the tempos slower. Yet, there are still a few subdued bangers, such as “Oxytocin” and “NDA.”
There also are some torch songs, with classic jazz/pop influences sprinkled throughout this playlist. And one definitely detects a more confident singer writing more confident material. Eilish has already proven herself. Here, she simply had to show she could do it AGAIN. Mission accomplished.
BUY IT?: Yes.