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Bleed Like Me: set in the emotional landscape of Shirley Manson's psyche.
Guest Writer

The fourth CD from Garbage
'Bleed Like Me'
by Amy Nuttbrock

n the new Garbage video, "Why Do You Love Me," we see a fussy, glam-vampy Shirley Manson applying eyeliner, posing and sneering as if in front of a mirror, then throwing a fit while seeing her face projected upon a huge wall in some warehouse.

Her Midwestern band members putter around like extras, shrugging and blinking with equipment in tow. All the while, Manson mouths the song's refrain in what seems like an almost nonchalant speaking voice – despite the fact that the singing we hear is actually being spat and hurled at us with operatic bombast.

Overall, Garbage's fourth effort, Bleed Like Me, is a mesh of the video's showy subjectivity and teen-age explosiveness.

Garbage: the 1995 debut provided a ballsy alternative to Gwen Stefani.

I've been hoping the album might grow on me. My reasons are biased. I've had a thing for Manson's mood swings and mental-case confessionals since I emerged from a neon-lit bedroom in 1996, with "Stupid Girl" stuck in my head.

Back then, Manson was valedictorian in the school of female-fronted, boy-backed rock groups. With Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig (a graduate of Nirvana fame) on sound and effects, Garbage became a powerhouse of muscular beats, rebel-rousing choruses and addictive nuance. Finally, there was a sharp and ballsy alternative to Gwen Stefani's "I'm Just a Girl" routine.

Things only got better with the band's second release, Version 2.0. Just in case we weren't clear the first time around, Manson confirmed her role as a manic-depressive, ass-kicking rock darling.

Version 2.0: things only got better with the 1998 release.

Suddenly everyone wanted to shag Garbage's redheaded front-woman. But it was the hammering electro-fixtures hanging over sporty pop riffs that provided the hook. Besides, who could forget those playful, shower-stall-friendly one-liners: "I fall down just to give you a thrill, so prop me up with another pill ..."

Version 2.0 was a near-perfect collision of mid-'90s techno, goth, punk and pop rock, revised. Then came 2001's Beautiful Garbage. Here, the band is caught playing with bouncy keyboard sounds, record scratchings and voice samplings, while barely managing to support Manson's cleverly insightful lyricism.

There are a couple of winners: "Silence is Golden," a crunchy rocker where Manson muses from the perspective of a rape survivor ("If I am silent, then I am not real / but if I speak up then no one will hear / If I wear a mask there's somewhere to hide"). And don't miss the cheerful Shirelles homage, "Can't Cry These Tears Anymore." The sound, so sweet and animated, makes it easy to miss that the song is about someone at the end of their rope.

Beautiful Garbage: the 2001 effort barely manages to support Manson's insights.

Bleed Like Me, like the previous albums, is set in the emotional landscape of Manson's psyche, where she rattles on about the things she knows best: breaking up, making up and fucking up.

This time, though, her writing has lost some of its razor-sharp introspection and the band sounds alternately annoyed, frenzied and a little too raucous for its own good.

"Bad Boyfriend" opens the album with guest star Dave Grohl on drums. Garbage's fondness for Debbie Harry makes a fleeting appearance, then retreats into a swell of speeding bass loops and tortured synthesizers.

When Manson teases "so ripe, so sweet, come suck it and see," you wonder if she's been listening to Canada's naughty drum-and-bass mixer, Peaches.

Teen-age explosiveness: wrestling with adolescent insecurities.

The rest of the album stomps and quakes around a formulaic alt-rock treatment. The drums, guitars, pianos and atmospheric noises are nearly always where you'd expect to find them.

And Manson, despite being almost 40 and married, still wrestles with common adolescent insecurities ("I am not as pretty as those girls in magazines" from "Why Do You Love Me") and youthful recklessness ("Let's get loaded, let's get wasted, let's get shit-faced" from "The Boys Wanna Fight").

The title track is the exception to the album's over-processed sound. "Bleed Like Me" describes a handful of troubled protagonists – an anorexic, a self-mutilator, a transgendered boy – before pleading "you should see my scars" in the chorus.

Manson: almost 40 and married.

Manson's voice is a pretty, cracked whisper, layered with brass and acoustic guitar. Her lyrics have a slender, hard clarity that prove she's most riveting when being straight-up and simple.

Whether promoting carnal curiosity in "Sex is Not the Enemy" or throwing punches at haters in "Right Between the Eyes," Garbage continues to lure a generous crowd of young, moody misfits.

The band's live shows pack the house and Manson hardly takes her fans for granted. In the CD insert, she extends a big thank you to a trio of girls working at the Hot Topic store in Palm Springs ("for reigniting my inspiration without even knowing it").

Though not the band's best work by any stretch, Bleed Like Me still has some edgy charm that will probably go over well with the newest generation of adorably cynical, bedroom-dwelling, post-punk ingénues.

What it does for anyone else is a lot more dicey.

E-mail Amy at amynuttbrock@hotmail, and see more of her work in our archives.

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