Garbage had deservedly high hopes for their first album of the 21st century. On Beautifulgarbage, the group moved away from their signature high-energy dance sheen, instead letting loose with a full-throated rock and roll roar, among other styles. A lack of promotion and charting singles may have led to the album getting short shrift in 2001, but a 20th-anniversary reissue loaded with b-sides and remixes, some brand new, gives us a chance to reevaluate this unrepentant watershed moment.
The album itself holds up well, especially amid a resurgence of 2000s nostalgia. It’s easy to trace a line from the jaded vocals of opener “Shut Your Mouth” to something like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal” or between the respective soft melancholy of “Drive You Home” and “Drivers License”. Beautifulgarbage, though, has always felt less focused on being fashionable than sincere. The chic electronic beats of Garbage and Version 2.0 are primarily relegated to the sideline; even bouncy singles “Androgyny”, “Cherry Lips”, and “Breaking Up the Girl” privilege raw feeling over pure polish.
Ultimately, Beautifulgarbage may be one of Garbage’s most well-balanced albums in this way, the band reaching emotional depths on par with the catchiness of their hooks. Also striking, even two decades later, is the sheer variety here. Bluesy opening guitar licks sear the introduction to anti-rape culture song “Silence is Golden”. “Can’t Cry These Tears” and “Cup of Coffee” are breakup ballads laced with the same 1960s girl group-style melodrama that lends a manic air to the grinding rock of “Til the Day I Die”. Trip-hop vapors spiral through “Nobody Loves You” and are immediately countered by the sharp 1990s hip-hop sounds evoked in righteously vindictive “Untouchable”. On the extreme upbeat end is life-affirming “Parade”, which stands in contrast to dreamy, bittersweet closer “So Like a Rose”, an underrated jewel of alt-pop pathos.
Demos, live versions, and unused mixes of these original 13 tracks join live recordings and b-sides on the second disc of the CD set. The differences can be subtle. A “rough mix” of “Androgyny” is almost identical to the final version at most points until it lets Shirley Manson spread her metaphorical wings a little more, a welcome adjustment. On the other hand, a demo of “Til the Day I Die” offers gothic lyrical intensity (“He was a hunter, he was drunk with love / He ground her bones into the dust”) and industrial rock sludge, making it a far cry from the ecstatic final product.
The b-sides are all over the map. 1980s lounge vibes exude “Confidence”, sinuous loops wind through “Happiness, Pt. 2”, and the devil-may-care coolness of “Begging Bone” offers a lighter counterpoint to somber, heartfelt “April Tenth”. Of the covers, a rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” is particularly well-suited to the band’s affinity for shadows, Manson’s voice both strong and mellow.
There’s no shortage of remixes, something that ends up being to the album’s credit. The range of them is vast, the taste level immaculate, and the whole section speaks to the versatility of the Garbage sound. Some highlights: “Shut Your Mouth” is as convincing in retro overdrive (the Jolly Music Scary mix) as it is on a quasi-orchestral scale (the Broadway Project Remix). The Neptunes’ remix of “Androgyny” is expectedly jaunty, while Felix Da Housecat soaks it in an appropriate distorted fuzz. “Cherry Lips”, already an unequivocal standout, turns full trance in a dark remix from maUVe and melts unexpectedly well into go-go-styled beats by Washington DC native Eli Janney. Some of these are old, some new, and all carefully chosen.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see Beautifulgarbage as a pivot point along Garbage’s trajectory, with one foot pointed back toward the buoyancy of Garbage and Version 2.0 and the other toward the naked edge of 2005’s Bleed Like Me. Beautifulgarbage saw the band laid bare in a new way that has since given them more room in which to maneuver their invigorating moodiness. The 20th-anniversary reissue celebrates all the space they take.