She walked up to me slowly and tentatively at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. There I was, sitting at a booth, hawking my brother’s posters, and she just strolled into my life. She was carrying a carpetbag over her shoulder that was almost as big as she was. I managed, briefly enough, to snap myself out of gazing into her limpid eyes and her fiery red hair to ask her what was in it. “A harp,” she replied in a thick and gooifying Scottish brogue, “It’s a moon-stah.” Holy good god, I was in love. There’s nothing I love more than a Scottish accent on a beautiful young girl. As an example, Kelly Macdonald is my dream woman. Before you accuse me of deceit, it wasn’t Shirley Manson who approached me in Austin. I think I would probably pass out in my chair if she ever spoke to me, but the accent and the looks, not to mention the fact that she was a musician, reminded me of her. There are quite a few times when you can detect a hint of brogue when Shirley sings, making it a regular occurrence that I turn into goo. I’ve loved Ms. Manson and Garbage since their debut self-titled album, and despite a few missteps on their most recent efforts, have remained steadfastly a fan.
That’s why I was pleased to finally see a hits package for this producer-heavy band. Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erickson were all strong producers in the rock world, though neither of the latter two were nearly as famous as Vig thanks to his involvement in some of the early ’90s most high profile albums including Nirvana’s Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, Helmet’s Betty and Sonic Youth’s Dirty. They had all been in band’s before, even with each other, but when they started to write music and spied the enchanting Shirley Manson fronting her former band Angelfish on a video on MTV, it was a confluence that was just too good to be denied. That accent, the sexiness, the disaffection, it was all what made this band one of the best and most successful of the ’90s. The years spanning the first two albums, from 1995 to 1999, were undoubtedly their strongest. This is why Absolute Garbage, a deluxe package featuring Garbage’s greatest hits, counts twelve of its eighteen first disc tracks from that period. Five songs are pulled from their self-titled debut including “Vow,” the song in which Shirley seductively and excitingly tells us she’s going to `fuck us up,’ “Queer,” a radio staple since its debut, “Only Happy When it Rains,” the song that truly vaulted Garbage into the mainstream, “Stupid Girl” and the chillout classic, “Milk.”
“#1 Crush,” from Baz Luhrmann’s neo-cool interpretation of Romeo + Juliet, is probably one of the band’s most underrated songs in their history. Alongside Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” its one of the few songs written specifically for a movie that actually has something to do with the context of the film and stands on its own merits. Version 2.0, their (duh) sophomore effort, also boasts five culled tracks including the Beach Boys and Salt n’ Pepa lifting “Push It,” the Pretenders homage “Special,” “I Think I’m Paranoid,” “When I Grow Up” and “You Look So Fine.” Add on their James Bond theme song to The World is Not Enough and you have a pretty decent representation of the band’s best already. The remaining tracks contain two from Beautiful Garbage, the coy “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go),” and “Shut Your Mouth.” (Don’t worry, “Breaking Up the Girl” and “Androgyny,” arguably two of the best tracks from that album, are represented on the remix disc, but more on that later). 2005’s Bleed Like Me, a virtual mosaic of ’90s sounds, displays three songs, one recently remixed for special inclusion on the album. “Why Do You Love Me,” the title track and the remix of “It’s All Over But the Crying” are the featured tracks from that album. Why “Run Baby Run,” the closest thing to Garbage’s great early years, wasn’t included in this collection, even on the remix disc, I’ll never know. “Tell Me Where It Hurts” is the one newly recorded track contributed by Garbage to this release, the supposed reason why this collection has been delayed for over a year. Rather than the hodge-podge of guitars found on their last album, this new song is somewhat refreshing, more of a throwback to the ’80s than the ’90s with strings, bells and a Chryssie Hynde feel.
The second disc of the set is a series of remixes by some highly respected artists including UNKLE (“The World is Not Enough”), Massive Attack (“Milk”), Rabbit in the Moon (“Queer”) and Crystal Method (“I Think I’m Paranoid”). UNKLE turn the James Bond theme song into a Blonde Redhead track circa Misery is a Butterfly quite nicely. The Massive Attack version of “Milk” should essentially replace the original version it’s so good. Other remixes don’t fare as well. Danny Tenaglia’s remix of “When I Grow Up” is pretty much ridiculous as is the Brothers in Rhythm take on “Special.” These two tracks from their `great’ period are worthy enough dance tracks on their own and don’t necessarily need the `uhn-ts…uhn-ts’ house music treatment. Roger Sanchez, a peer of the other New York DJ’s in this compilation, actually hits a little closer to the mark with his treatment of “Cherry Lips,” though even he teases out the lyrics far too much. Ultimately, except for a few standout tracks, the remix disc is pretty much a disappointment. Those who enjoy Shirley Manson’s delicious voice over the producer trio’s anthemic dance rock will most likely be put off by these drawn out house tracks, most of which become fairly unrecognizable after the DJ treatment.
The deluxe version of the package has a better bonus gift, being a DVD of all the band’s videos. After all, we’d rather see a whole lot of Shirley than to hear her voice chopped up into bits and thrown over pulsating beats for use in some meat market rave. It’s true, Garbage’s days are pretty much behind them, but in that time they did put out some pretty darn great material, as is evidenced by this collection. Shirley Manson reportedly has a solo CD in the works, let’s hope it’s as good as Garbage’s early years. Maybe it’ll be a `moon-stah!’
Smashing Pumpkins- Greatest Hits
The Cardigans- First Band on the Moon
Siouxsie & the Banshees- Twice Upon a Time: The Singles