Garbage – Beautiful Garbage – Review


Beautiful Garbage (Interscope)
by Michael McCarthy

Garbage‘s self-titled debut arrived in 1995 and quickly won the praise of both alt-music critics and mainstream media. The alt-music press couldn’t resist it because, well, it was one of the best alt-rock discs released in the mid-’90s (though I realize that’s probably not saying much) and mainstream press because of the band’s pop sensibilities. Some even said that their music was pop, though to my ears, the disc was rock that just happened to be influenced by pop. I was surprised then to read interviews in which the band described their music as pop. As if to prove their point, 1998’s Version 2.0 was not only pop, but one of the best pop discs ever released. In fact, “Special” and “Temptation Waits” were such irresistible pop that I was glad they’d proven me wrong. So the big question in my mind as I awaited the arrival of Beautiful Garbage was whether they’d soldier on as a pop group or revert back to the harder, dirtier sound of the first disc. The answer is, well, both… and then some.

Rock fans who didn’t like Version 2.0 are unlikely to appreciate Beautiful Garbage. “Silence Is Golden” is arguably their heaviest song yet, and the lyrics, which would seem to be about rape, are as piercing and aggressive as the intense guitar riffs. Shirley Manson’s vocals haven’t sounded this ferocious since “Vow,” their very first single. It sounds like it’s just guitar/bass/drums/vocals, though I suppose there could be a loop in the background. That said, there isn’t another song like it on the disc. The final track, “So Like A Rose,” may sound like it’s just guitar/bass/drums/vocals, sans samples, loops and computer wizardry, but it’s a sweet, dreamy track that’s the antithesis of “Silence Is Golden” both musically and lyrically. Neither song seems out of place on the album, however, because most of the songs have a unique sound that sets them apart from the others. It’s like the band sat down and wrote a list of genres they’d like to explore and then created songs to complete the list.

Shirley does her best Fred Durst impression as the disc opens with “Shut Your Mouth,” her vocals somewhere between rap and a whisper, and the song is complete with a funky beat you’d expect from The Neptunes. It’s followed by “Androgyny,” the first single, which is the band’s first attempt at an R&B-flavored beat and possibly the weakest song on the album. (Strangely, there is a remix of “Androgyny” by The Neptunes which would’ve followed better here, though it doesn’t appear on the album but as a b-side on various import singles.) Then it’s on to the band’s first attempt at ’50s music, “Can’t Cry These Tears,” and they actually pull it off effortlessly. Next, they mix scratching and funky beats with a vocal intro that sounds like a Bee Gees impersonation on “Til the Day I Die” and the result is equally pleasing. Come to think of it, “Androgyny” is the only song where I’d say they’ve faltered, and if a band can try this many different things and only falter on one track, you really can’t complain. (Though, for the record, I’ll be the first to renounce them if they do a few country songs on their next disc.) What beautiful, inspired Garbage it is.