“This is our seventh record, the significant numerology of which affected the DNA of its content: the seven virtues, the seven sorrows, and the seven deadly sins,” says Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson of the band’s ferocious new album No Gods No Masters and its twists and turns from capitalism and lust to loss and grief. “It was our way of trying to make sense of how fucking nuts the world is and the astounding chaos we find ourselves in. It’s the record we felt that we had to make at this time.”
Since releasing their eponymous debut album in 1995, Garbage has blazed a unique sonic trail, garnering critical acclaim and amassing a passel of hits as well as seven Grammy nominations along the way to 17 million albums sold.
No Gods No Masters is a big, bold and indignant record – overtly political and socially charged in a way that the band has not been before. Its songs touch on themes ranging from global unrest and encroaching climate change (“The Men Who Rule the World”) to the Black Lives Matter movement (“Waiting For God”), to the Me Too movement, sexism and misogyny.
“These were times I felt that, as a human being, we had to really pay attention,” says Manson, a singular artist whose skill and outspokenness have made her a true force in music since she first began recording over three decades ago as well as an icon who continues to influence today’s newest generation of musicians. “We had been touring the world and I’d started to see this frightening rise of racism and fascism. And, of course, I was acutely aware of what was going on in Britain with Brexit and in America with Trump. So, I was on high alert, and I felt that had
to somehow make its way into the record. We couldn’t just sit there and make a party record at this time in our lives.”
Her bandmates Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig were in complete agreement. “We’ve never been a political band at least as far as our music goes,” says Erikson. “But this whole situation in the last four years had become so intense and so all-consuming, it was just hard to ignore it.”
What resulted is the perfect soundtrack for this fraught moment from a band that has been making its unique mark for nearly 30 years – a record that could only have come from the intimate relationship between musicians who have matured and grown together over the course of their careers. Like the writers of the Lost Generation, they’ve taken to art to make sense of a world in turmoil.
Ask the four members of Garbage what the secret to their longevity is and you’ll get four different answers. But common themes thread the members’ various theories: love, humor, kindness, the space to be themselves and, as Marker quips, “Lots of wine.”
The root of the group’s organizing principle, however, is evident in every fiercely felt second of No Gods No Masters: alchemy. No one makes music like these four people when they get together, and they need each other to do it.
“I pinch myself every time we start a record because I feel Garbage has always been such a great creative palette for all of us,” says Vig, who first melded musical minds with fellow Midwesterners Erikson and Marker in the ‘80s before they invited Scotswoman Manson to join the circus in 1994. “We have a sound I can’t even articulate, but it’s a pretty wide horizon—electronica, punk rock, orchestral music, pop songs and fuzzy guitar riffs. We’ve blended all those things together, so we’ve never been a one-dimensional sounding band.”
That expansiveness of musical vision continues on No Gods No Masters which radiates with a burning sense of purpose both lyrically and musically. The 11-track collection is by turns brutal and beautiful, a celebration of the sonic maelstrom and a triumph of silence —sometimes within the space of a single song.
It is sorrowful lamentations (“Waiting For God”) and fidgety confessions (“Uncomfortably Me”), romantic vengeance (“A Woman Destroyed”) and the firm planting of tongue in cheek (“Godhead”). It features some of the most nuanced melodies and piercing vocals Manson has ever committed to tape, swirling around and atop some of most intricate and enticing layers of architectural soundscapes ever constructed by the band. In short, it is Garbage, continuing to practice its brand of magic in which the meeting of four minds from two continents manifests a singular sensibility that, since 1995, has become both iconic and inimitable.
The seeds were planted in summer 2018 in the desert in Palm Springs. The quartet convened at a home belonging to one of Marker’s relatives and sketched out the skeleton of the album over two weeks, jamming, experimenting and feeling the songs out. They then took those demos and went their separate ways to tinker a bit before reconvening in the Los Angeles studio of engineer (and Manson’s husband) Billy Bush. “We finished our last day of proper recording together as a band March 15, 2020, right before we went into lockdown,” says Vig.
Almost eerily, he notes, certain lyrics seem to presage the pandemic or comment on the social unrest of 2020, even though the songs were written prior to both. “When I was listening to the record as we were mixing it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is sort of about right now,’” says Vig, still a bit incredulous at the band’s prescience.
All four members are itching to return to the stage to test drive No Gods No Masters, although, in true Garbage form, they piled so many layers and textures into the songs they’re not sure how they’re going to recreate it live. “I’m glad it’s coming out now because I do feel like that the album is very much about the world that we live in at this moment,” says Vig. “I wish we could start touring right when the record drops.”
Ultimately, the band members feel revitalized by No Gods No Masters. “This is a record I was supposed to make,” says Manson. “And I can’t say I’ve always felt that about every record we’ve ever made. I really was clear in my intent and my purpose. And I’m really proud of that. It’s a complex record. Lord only knows what the fans will think, but for me, personally, it’s immensely satisfying.”