[1 October 2001]
Garbage is back. Cue the fanfare. Wait . . . not so fast, junior. Seems that Shirley Manson and pals have upset a few of the old diehards with their new Beautifulgarbage. Some are screaming pop sell out. Others are enjoying the album immensely. But let’s face it. You can put Shirley’s stamp on it and it’ll sell. The girls love her. The boys love her. She’s got that thing that the fans just gotta have. Yeah, she looks like a peach. But how about the new music? Forget the face for a moment and listen to the tunes.
The fact that things are decidedly different is apparent on the first track, “Shut Your Mouth”. A big walking beat, a nice fat bass line, and a dirty guitar strut all over the place. This is Garbage for the discos. Shake that ass. Manson’s lyrical rehash of Bowie’s “Fame” with some decidedly TRL-ready ‘N Sync musical swagger sounds impressive. The first time. “We know your music, but of course we’d never buy it / It’s too fake, man / Right, man”, sings Shirley, topping it off with the silly “We don’t give a fucking damn”. Naughty girl makes the kiddies scream! Ah, but take a second listen, a third even. For the first time in their history, Garbage sounds like they just want to fit in. The problem is that they do. It’s too bad, because at one time, the group was one of the more interesting (if not completely original) sounding bands on the radio.
In fact, “Androgyny” sounds like a Destiny’s Child knockoff. The stop-start rhythms, the tastefully programmed beat, the stripped down atmosphere, the overused acoustic guitar licks, and the strange backwards vocoder sweeps are about as “R&B” lite as you can get (I say “R&B” because it’s been years since R&B was actually just that). The first time I heard this song, I thought I had the wrong disc in my player. Of course, I’m not sure that Destiny’s Child would handle the same subject matter here, but the music is pure Beyonce. Or as Justin and pals would say, “dirty pop”. It’s all right; Shirley might be able to hawk some mascara for Target with this one.
If that’s not odd enough, then please check out ‘Can’t Cry These Tears” which sounds uncannily like a cross between Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” and some kind of futuristic Phil Spector noodling. The chimes! The girl group of the Sixties backing vocals! Garbage gets kitschy. The last group you would ever think to possibly create pure pablum, and here it is. Go, Shirley, go! Too bad Eddie Money staged his comeback with Ronnie Spector all those years ago; she’d fit right in here.
Two tracks later, Butch Vig is pulling out the theramin and Shirley’s moaning about breaking up over cups of coffee and smoking her old lover’s cigarettes (“Cup of Coffee”). This time the music is based on a piano that sounds like it’s playing a variation on the theme from Halloween. I suppose Garbage felt like they had to cover all the bases here. Shirley used to seem evil during some of her best moments in the past. Now, her band is bringing the chills through updated soundtrack music. What won’t they do on this album?
Well, they won’t stop themselves from tossing out a few packets of bubblegum, that’s for sure. “Cherry Lips” sounds like the kind of thing Daft Punk would be excellent at. But Garbage? No thank you, sir. The lyrics seem like they could be a sarcastic put down to such bubblegum queens as Britney and Christina (“With your cherry lips and your golden curls / You could make grown men gasp when you go walking past / And in your hot pants and high heels / They could not believe that such a body was for real”). But the music just pops happily along with the worst of those two, so any any intended venom is quickly lost.
Did I mention how much “Till the Day I Die” sounds like a remake of Debbie Harry’s “The Jam Was Movin’”? Or how “Breaking Up The Girl” sounds like a cross between the Go-Gos and Katrina and the Waves? Sincerely strange, and more than a bit disappointing. I mean, all those bands were fine and fancy, but hearing Garbage come out with this “new sound” of theirs borrowing from so many plastic sources from the past is . . . criminal? Sure. The outraged fans are rightly confused.
Some of the fans will decree that the new sound is a great break from the older Garbage albums. They may tell you that it’s good that the group has decided to do something different. That’s fine. But why lower themselves to recording music that pales in comparison to everything else they’ve done? Instead of a departure, it feels more like five steps back and a bid for big radio play. That’s cool. But it’s just not that enjoyable. Of course, I’m sure it’ll score a whole truckload of new fans who will then go and buy Garbage’s first two albums, only to find them too “noisy”. Well I’ll take noise over flaccid pre-programmed teen scream ditties like these any day. Beautifulgarbage is anything but.