After four years of quit, Garbage has returned, but their new album may be too much for some listeners.
Other new albums this week include a Willie Nelson-helmed tsunami-relief album, yet another best of Billie Holiday album, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s latest collaboration with the Silk Road Ensemble.
Garbage, “Bleed Like Me”Forget the revivalists. The disjointed members of Garbage created and lived in the obscurity of an era that bands like The Killers and Bloc Party cheerfully recreate. Now, after a four-year, drama-filled absence that included one breakup, Garbage returns with the often repetitious but fully charged “Bleed Like Me.”
The troupe, including glamazon frontwoman Shirley Manson, has been infused with the edginess of a Ginsu knife, lavishly exposing old wounds and new ones with potent guitars riffs and brawny drums. “You should see my scars,” former self-mutilator Manson whispers on the album’s paramount title track.
At the halfway point, this record suddenly slashes and gnaws without much prose or purpose. The second half of “Bleed Like Me” is too dizzy to be understood. The electro-rockers’ torrential stabbing on “Why Don’t You Come Over” slices the cranium enough to force a listener run for cover.
Those technical difficulties don’t dampen tracks like the fabulously moody “Metal Heart” and the hip-thrusting “Bad Boyfriend,” which features Dave Grohl on drums. Neither completely synth-pop nor all glam rock, Garbage remain ambiguous.
Despite being together for nearly a decade, Manson and her men remain fresher than most of their neighboring 1990s acts such as that other one-girl-with-multiple-boys group No Doubt, as well as that other Manson, Marilyn.
Listeners ready to taste Garbage’s latest course should treat “Bleed Like Me” like a bloody warm shepherd’s pie. Eat a slice, not the whole thing.— Derrik J. Lang
Willie Nelson, “Songs for Tsunami Relief: Austin to South Asia”
The CD cover says “Willie Nelson” in big letters, but “Songs for Tsunami Relief” offers much more — an incredible sampling of Austin’s rich music scene, recorded live.
Patty Griffin, accompanied only by a conga drum, sings quietly but with unmistakable passion: “All of our children all over the world are everybody’s children. Let love be heard.”
Joe Ely’s decades of musical adventuring pay off in songs rich in both country sensibilities and rock power. Feedback and whining guitars mingle with his bourbon-and-cigarettes voice.
The music veers further into rock with Alejandro Escovedo and Spoon before Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks bring it back with versions of “What I Deserve” and “Traveling Soldier.”
Then Nelson arrives. He makes classics like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” sound new again with fresh phrasing and tempos, and he complements them by dipping into his amazing catalog for touching but lesser-known songs.
Just as good as the music, of course, is the fact that proceeds from the CD and an accompanying DVD benefit tsunami victims.— Christopher Wills
Billie Holiday, “The Ultimate Collection”
The decades have taken Billie Holiday from mono to multimedia, and now her indelible work is repackaged in an appealing two-CD, one-DVD set, the latest sound-and-vision collection from Universal Music.
Lady Day lovers hardly need another Holiday CD compilation — there are 25 already, according to Ashley Kahn’s excellent liner notes. But the DVD makes the title “The Ultimate Collection” more than empty hype.
Among the performances by Holiday are a 1935 video short with Duke Ellington, a rarely seen 1956 TV special and her renowned 1957 TV appearance with an all-star combo featuring Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge and Gerry Mulligan. The DVD also contains an extensive interactive archive with photos, interviews and a biographical chronology.
The CDs comprise a standard Holiday best-of set, with the selections spanning her career. Sound quality ranges from surprisingly excellent on several 1930s cuts to disappointing with distracting distortion on a handful of tracks. Aside from an awkwardly designed disc storage compartment, the packaging is handsome.
And by the way, the music is wonderful. In analog or digital, Lady Day remains a treasure.— Steven Wine
Yo-Yo Ma, “Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon”Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s latest collaboration with the Silk Road Ensemble tears down barriers between the East and West to emerge with a bold production that, as the title suggests, illuminates cultures just “Beyond the Horizon.”
Broken into three movements — Enchantment, Origins, and New Beginnings — the album explores the musical cultures that flourished along an ancient trade route between China and Rome. Known as the Silk Road, the route took caravans up to a year to travel and left a stew of sounds the ensemble confidently captures here.
“Mohini (Enchantment)” and “Echoes of a Lost City” fill the first movement with floating wonderment, mixing Ma’s passionate cello melodies with instrumental rhythms all but foreign in an orchestra. And in later movements, grave threatening tones on “Battle Remembered” strengthen the point that while the origins of this music are old, these versions are powerfully contemporary.
Initially recorded to accompany a Japanese television series about the road, “Beyond the Horizon” is the recording Yo-Yo and the ensemble have made to mark the course of their discoveries into a diverse tapestry of musical cultures.
But the songs are only a part of an album that covers great musical distance. Transcending time and space as it does, the scope of the project alone is enough to render the music breathtaking. And indeed it is.— Ryan Lenz