Shirley Manson and Garbage: The Trick Is to Keep Breathing.

The nice thing about catching up with a band when they’ve called it quits is you don’t have to suffer along with the fans in watching them start to suck.  I just read an article that Foreigner, Styx and Kansas are announcing a tour with tickets as low as $10 bucks.   That’s about $9.50  more than I’d pay to see the desiccated remains of three seventies arena rock bands.   If they paid me $20 bucks I’d consider going, but I wouldn’t stay for the show.  Once Styx starts doing “Lady” I’m looking for my car keys.

Garbage was never a big time band, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make a big noise.  They were three homely dudes backing up a really skinny chick singer from Scotland who shared a surname with America’s first hippie serial killer.  Shirley Manson is like the girl you knew in high school who wore out of style clothes that looked like thrift store leftovers and everyone treated like shit.    Maybe you were the one person who didn’t treat her like a complete loser and found her to be a little lonely, a lot misunderstood and just needing a little human kindness and maybe a better brand of soap and deodorant.

Garbage. The band. Not the stuff you toss out.

Manson, sounds like the red-haired prodigy of a one-night stand between Chrissie Hynde and Madonna and blessed with a voice that can sing dirty rock n’ roll and pure pop with a nasty twist to it.   She has a very pretty voice and with her clear diction you get the feeling she’d be equally at home belting out big ballads as she is doing the darkly subversive music of Garbage.

On only four albums, Garbage, driven by the studio wizardry of Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson and matched by Manson’s goth-on-steroids lyrics of doom, bad sex, and bad relationships, made interesting, if not overly successful music.

Garbage never had much in the way of  “hits.”  Songs like  “I Think I’m Paranoid”,  “Queer” and  “Bleed Like Me” are coming from places too strange for the Brittany Spears/Lady GaGa crowd.   What the band is best known for is the theme song from a mediocre James Bond flick,  The World Is Not Enough and “#1 Crush”, the creepiest tune about obsession since “Every Breath You Take.”   Only Manson is a lot more convincing as a psychopathic stalker than Sting when she intones when dead-eyed clarity, “I would die for you/I would kill for you.”

Even if recent James Bond movies have a pretty lousy track record lately of themes (Madonna, Chris Cornell, Jack White and Alica Keys), Garbage performing “The World Is Not Enough” is a highlight that has grown on me in a way Madonna’s “Die Another Day” never did.   Manson is paired off with a  60-piece orchestra and she’s got nowhere to hide.   She admitted to being intimidated by the setting, but you’d never know from how professionally she carries it off.

Absolute Garbage, the obligatory “best of” album is the best introduction to Manson’s enduringly bleak look at love, sex and relationships and a good jumping on point that the individual albums aren’t for someone just looking for the best of Garbage.  Most meat.  Less cereal fillers.

Manson wears her “not a pretty girl with double-d’s” persona like a badge of honor.  She knows full well she’s no centerfold and she’s not going to grace the cover of Maxim.   But she understands the power of sex, the appeal of bad girls and how to affect an air of bored indifference when she couldn’t be more  intently interested in everything going on around her.

I like Absolute Garbage a lot.  I played it for an entire week when I bought it and I need to hear it every so often.  The creepiness of “#1 Crush” contrasts with the subversive playfulness of “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)” and the bleakness of “Bleed Like Me” all appeals to me because Shirley delivers the goods with such authenticity that even when she’s weirding me out, it comes off as sincere and not the least bit contrived.

Garbage is supposedly reuniting for another album which means the possibility for more Shirley Manson strangeness will be seeping through my headphones.   I can hardly wait.

(Disclaimer: It occurs me that it’s the wrong time to wait until a musician, actor, athlete or comedian passes away before they get an appreciation.  Periodically,  I want to say something nice about the living.  Some of these shout-outs will be of interest only to me.  Then again, it’s my blog, so I suppose the first person I need to please is myself, right?)

3 thoughts on “Shirley Manson and Garbage: The Trick Is to Keep Breathing.

  1. Garbage are testament to longevity. 7 grammy nominees, 0 wins but fans are still lapping it up. What is a measure of success? In today’s music biz the metrics have changed. Methinks groups like this can still command good live concert turnouts, but are not the image being pushed by the major labels.


  2. i have been listening to garbage since they first came out. beautiful garbage is still my favorite. i heard rumours the band was breaking up and shirley was going solo. i had hope not i love this. the music has meant so much to me over the years, and has gotten me through rough times. i will always be a fan even when i’m old and gray.


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