On her band’s new song, The Creeps, Shirley Manson recalls feeling like she was on the scrapheap at 40. The Scottish singer had spent the second half of the Nineties as a huge star. With her older, male American bandmates, including Nirvana producer Butch Vig, she had delivered a blueprint for the future of alternative rock after grunge had imploded in its own self-loathing: not the provincial archness of Britpop but something shinier and partly electronic, with an unnerving darkness at its heart. They were so close to the centre of popular culture that they were asked to record a Bond theme, The World is Not Enough, in 1999.
But by the middle of the next decade, they had been dropped by their major record label and Manson found herself driving past a life-sized poster of herself on the street in LA, going cheap in a garage sale. “There were tears in my eyes and so I drove on by,” she sings over restless beats and squalling synths.
Now 54, she ought to be able to laugh about it. These days she’s esteemed as a fearless rock icon, with plenty to say about women’s roles in the music industry as well as wider politics, and host of a popular podcast, The Jump. There she interviews musicians, such as Sharon Van Etten and Karen O, who are surely more excited to meet her than she is to meet them.
But while she could be content with being revered for past work (Garbage tour with fellow female-fronted veterans, Blondie, in November) this time she has something new to say. While the band’s sixth album, Strange Little Birds, sounded flat-out miserable, this seventh is furious. The Men Who Rule the World rages against the patriarchy in bizarrely fun fashion, mixing arcade bleeps with funk guitar and Manson demanding: “Let’s save all of the animals/Let’s save all the squid.”
On Godhead she sounds terrifying, singing in a threatening whisper over industrial clanks. The anguished slow-burner Waiting for God takes aim at racial injustice, showing the world “Smiling at fireworks that light allâ ourâ skies up/While blackâ boys get shot in the back.”
The broad strokes of the music go on to include queasy Roxy Music sax on Anonymous (XXX) and wild, buzzing synths on the euphoric title track. It ensures Garbage can hold off on heritage act status and celebrate an inspiring present.