Thursday, October 8, 2020


Empty/Strange Little Birds (2016)

I don't think we have ever had much Garbage on this site. That might seem a dangerous place to start, dismissing the usual advice to quit whilst you're ahead, but no, it's true, I can see little or no reference at all. To the band, that is. (What else could I, or even you, possibly mean?) I loved the band on their breakthrough, a fairly rapid state of affairs, if long in the genesis. At the time the brash and somewhat strident decisiveness of the sound seemed a refreshing adjunct to the murkier tones of the grunge movement that begat the band. And I loved the contrast between the "old" guys* and their "young" singer.

Let's retrace some steps. It is 1993. Butch Vig and Steve Marker, both experienced and successful record producers have their own studio. However they weary of their trademark sonic tone, the shockwaves of the Vig produced Nevermind meaning that everybody had and wanted to sound that way. Bringing in old buddy, Duke Erikson, who had been in a couple of bands with Vig, they become engrossed in the art of the remix, their ethos being primarily to alter the direction and focus of the instrumental dynamic, playing tricks with the bass and guitar lines. From there it seems logical to see if that could apply within a live setting, to: 

"take that remix sensibility and somehow translate it into all of the possibilities of a band setup."

Initial false steps with Vig on vocals prove unsatisfactory, with a joint decision it is a female voice the catalyst missing, seeking a forceful character with a powerful voice without too much screech. Marker comes across the band, Angelfish, enjoying the cut of the jib of their striking front woman, and her characterful tones. This is Shirley Manson, and Angelfish are the new name for Goodbye Mr McKenzie, a Scottish group of a relentlessly indie oeuvre. Manson initially not even their lead vocalist, merely sharing that role until the record company get involved, contracts needing a change of name to keep her at the fore. Cue Marker, who draws her to the attention of his cronies. An unsuccessful audition takes place, Manson too much in awe of the reputation of, especially, Vig, and with her impenetrable Edinburgh accent proving indecipherable to the three americans. That seems the end of that. But luckily she seeks another chance, with the dissolution of Angelfish and Garbage are in the can.

Supervixen/Garbage (1995)

I loved those first two albums, Garbage and Version 2.0, 1995 and 98 respectively, the aggressively clean thrust of the songs a potent clarion, with short songs, garlanded both with hooks and the quirks of the three studio boffins, all exuberantly presented with the brash charisma of Manson, transformed from gauche starlet to banshee. With crossover appeal to assuage both the purists and the poppers, for a while they were unassailable.

I Think I'm Paranoid/Version 2.0 (1998)

The traditional difficult third album, Beautiful Garbage, proved as dictated, nearly sinking the band. Frictions were beginning to appear and it didn't fare so well in the charts. A fourth album, Bleed Like Me, only kept them together by performing above expectation, following which they gave themselves some needed time-off.

Bleed Like Me/Bleed Like Me (2005)

As is the way, 2007's greatest hits package, Absolute Garbage, required some new material, with four new tracks produced, a stimulus for again picking up the pieces and reconvening, recording and touring in and from 2010.

As is also the way, no band is ever now allowed to stop entirely, Garbage no different. A final "new" album, Strange Little Birds, appeared in 2016, and it is from this record that 'Empty' comes. Sadly this is not their high-water mark, much of the studio trickery that so lit up their earlier releases seemingly dissipated and, um, empty. But it is still a good enough songs by any other standard, the vocals a mix of Chrissie Hynde and Alanis Morrissette, with a sturdy backing redolent also of the Pretenders.

No Horses/single (2017)

Fast forward a year or three and the band are on tour, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Version 2.0 with a tour, along with an extended re-release of the album. Part of this shebang included a new single, 2017's No Horses, which suggests a return to form, effecting a glorious trip-hop vibe. I caught the tail end of that tour, as it hit Birmingham, UK, and my thoughts of that night, my sole live exposure to the band are included here. I am uncertain whether that is it; prior to Covid they were said to be planning new material for a release this year and US dates are pencilled in for summer next year. So, indeed, whatever happened to Garbage?

*Erikson hits 70 in January.

Empty? Maybe, but maybe get this or this instead.

blog comments powered by Disqus