Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Sound Familiar?

“Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl,” “Special”

Who Are They?

A post-grunge tour de force featuring the “Nevermind Man” (a.k.a. Butch Vig) as a key member.

Butch and Duke Erikson had been a part of the music industry for years before the formation of Garbage. After producing Nirvana’s magnum opus (1991’s Nevermind), Butch sought to start on a new project, this time with a female vocalist.

One night, guitarist Steve Marker was killing time by watching a little MTV when he saw the video for Angelfish’s “Suffocate Me.” The band’s singer, Shirley Manson, immediately peaked his interest, so Steve invited her to join his band.

Angelfish disbanded, and after two auditions, Shirley became a permanent member of Garbage.

In an effort to avoid the grunge genre that had put Butch on the map, the band deliberately strove to make a pop record. After signing to Mushroom UK Records, Garbage released the first single, “Vow,” in 1995. Commercial alternative radio in the US picked up “Vow,” and it went into heavy rotation nationwide, debuting at #39 on Hot Modern Rock Tracks.

Garbage’s self-titled album debuted at #193 on the Billboard 200 in August 1995. Since Shirley and the gang signed with a UK record label (Shirley is Scottish), the album was received better across the pond upon its initial release.

“Queer” was released as a single in the UK, while “Only Happy When It Rains” became a single in North America. Once it was certified a “Buzz Clip” by MTV, “Only Happy When It Rains” gave Garbage that push into the mainstream in the US.

After a contribution to the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (1996’s “#1 Crush”), Garbage received Grammy nods for Best New Artist, and Best Rock Song/Best Rock Performance for “Stupid Girl.” (They lost Best New Artist to LeAnn Rimes. Really?)

For their follow-up (1998’s Version 2.0), Garbage decided not to change their sound, as most bands feel obligated to do. Instead, they kept the same formula they had used for Garbage and pushed their sound as far as it would go. The first single was the aptly named “Push It.” Subsequent singles “I Think I’m Paranoid” and “Special” helped Version 2.0 earn two Grammy noms for Album of the Year and Best Rock Album.

Despite losing out on tons of Grammys, Garbage ended the ‘90s on top of the world. They had two successful albums and had hits in both the UK and the US, along with Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Austria, and Germany. (I know every band dreams of being big in Lithuania. Don’t lie.)

Where Are They Now?

Back from the dead with their first new album in 7 years.

Garbage regrouped in 2001 to record their third album, Beautiful Garbage. After a short legal scuffle with their record label, the band signed to Interscope Records and released “Androgyny” as Beautiful Garbage’s first single.

The promotional schedule for the album was postponed due to the September 11 attacks, and Beautiful Garbage ended up suffering from this lack of promotion. It received mixed reactions from both critics and fans, but was somehow named one of Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Albums of the Year (not that Rolling Stone’s opinion on anything really matters.)

Garbage scored a supporting slot on U2’s Elevation Tour, but Butch ended up contracting Hepatitis A after the last North American show. Meanwhile, “Breaking Up the Girl” (not to be confused with the Red Hot Chili Peppers tune “Breaking the Girl”) was released as a single and eventually used as the theme song to the Daria TV movie Is It College Yet?.

The Beautiful Garbage tour was greatly hampered by the band’s health problems, with Shirley suffering from throat problems and poor Butch being taken off the tour twice (first with Hepatitis, then later with Bell’s Palsy).

Work on 2005’s Bleed Like Me was halted when Shirley underwent surgery on her right vocal cord. Due to rising tension and a breakdown in communication, Garbage slowly began to disintegrate. When Butch encountered eager fans dying to know how the album was going, he didn’t have the heart to tell them that the band was seriously considering a breakup. Instead, he name-dropped some possible titles for the album, which got him thinking that maybe Garbage wasn’t finished after all.

Bleed Like Me was a success, with lead single “Why Do You Love Me?” debuting at #39 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. But the effort of producing the album proved to be too much for the band. At the end of an Australian tour, Garbage confirmed that they were going on an indefinite hiatus.

Shirley began work on a solo album (which was never released) and Butch produced Green Day’s Grammy-winning album 21st Century Breakdown. But the universe sensed this hiatus was too great a disturbance, so Garbage convened once again.

But Why Garbage?

The result of this happy reunion is Not Your Kind of People, the band’s first album in seven years. Not Your Kind of People is set to drop on May 15. No new single yet, but check out this interview with Shirley (and marvel at her lovely accent).

What Does Sam Think?

Post-grunge is dangerous territory. Why? Well, if you’re a post-grunge band, you run the risk of sounding similar to every other post-grunge band (Candlebox, Collective Soul, Oleander, Creed, etc.). Or if your name is Dave Grohl, you can become ridiculously successful. If you are not Dave Grohl, you better have that extra special something that sets you apart.

Garbage has that special something. They’re the perfect mix of post-grunge attitude and electronic infectiousness. Steve Marker said it best: “We take pop music and make it as horrible sounding as we can.”

The music isn’t horrible in the sense that it will make your ears bleed. The “horrible factor” comes from the unconventional pop sensibilities. You’ve got rough electronic elements mixed with Shirley’s sultry vocals, a combination that seems to please people in a post-Nirvana world.

Garbage’s sound is a little dark, a little girly, but all-around original. Garbage and Version 2.0 are great examples of this. Bleed Like Me is much darker than previous albums, but it really doesn’t stray too far from Garbage’s signature sound.

I expect great things from Not Your Kind of People, though I know having high expectations can end in devastation (see my continuous disappointment in new albums from ‘90s bands, with the exceptions of Radiohead and Primus).

But when you have Butch Vig as a permanent member, you’re only allowed to produce great albums. He’s Nevermind Man, capable of topping the charts in a single bound!

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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