The number seven is usually seen as a signifier of luck, but for Garbage it's more ominous than fortuitous. The American rock band's seventh record – and their first since 2016's Strange Little Birds – holds a particular magnitude in their catalogue, according to frontwoman Shirley Manson. She has said that the "significant numerology" of No Gods No Masters had an impact on its contents, which encompasses the "seven virtues, the seven sorrows, and the seven deadly sins".
It’s no surprise, then, that this collection sets its stall out from the first lines uttered by Manson on opener The Men Who Rule the World. “The men who rule the world have made a f**king mess/ The history of power, the worship of success,” she snarls over a mechanical melange of sounds, giddy tempos and the bleep and ping of slot machines.
That denunciation of capitalism is just the tip of the iceberg with these songs, which also encompass misogyny on the industrial crunch of Godhead, and the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements on the meandering thud of Waiting for God – a song that references school lockdowns and “black boys getting shot in the back”. No one can accuse Manson of playing it safe.
Amid the political and social turmoil, however, the Scottish- born singer also gets personal. Wolves and Uncomfortably Me are moody reflections laced with self-doubt and vulnerability. The former expresses regret over her own past lack of self-worth with lines such as “Wish I’d told them all to go to hell/ But I never had the common sense, too busy hating on myself”. A Woman Destroyed flips the script with a thrilling zing of cinematic strings set against an affirmation of revenge, as Manson scornfully warns her romantic transgressor to “Lock your door, get a guard dog”.
These themes of virtue, sorrow and sin are undoubtedly admirable, but they don’t always land with the intended effect. Too many songs on No Gods No Masters are mired in grimy, moody musical palettes that sound dated and clunky.
As ever, Garbage are at their finest when they add melody and pace to their songbook – best heard here on the punchy, jagged-edged rock of The Creeps, or the vampish, sultry Anonymous (XXX). The closing triplet of the poppy Flipping the Bird (a song reminiscent of one of their finest moments, When I Grow Up), the breezy title track and the swoonsome This City Will Kill You ensure that the album ends with some sense of panache, making for a memorable ending despite a somewhat musically muddled beginning.