Mushroom Records UK (1995)
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
The best understanding of the band Garbage’s music is gathered by understanding the origins of the group’s name. Butch Vig, the producer already famous for his work on Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” was working on Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral” when a passerby gave a listen and said it “sounded like garbage.” The passerby looks like an idiot now, but it spawned a title.
Nine Inch Nails had more of an effect on the group than offhandedly providing a band name. Throughout the album, Vig makes efforts to incorporate what he had learned from working with NIN. Alas, he didn’t have nearly the skill to match NIN’s Trent Reznor when it came to incorporating industrial elements into his music.
Granted, Vig was never trying to mimic NIN; he was just drawing inspiration. The band incorporates real human instruments on a more regular basis (Vig played the drums when a drum machine wasn’t being used). Another big difference: vocalist Shirley Manson, although her attitude is plenty negative, can’t help but sound more gentle than Reznor and other vocalists of the era just because she’s female. When it’s done right, the band has a sound all its own.
“Not My Idea” is the best example of it being done right. The track melds influences from the band’s grunge and industrial roots into a hook that still resonates today. Not to beat the NIN references into the ground, but the song strongly resembles “I Do Not Want This” thematically.
The book extols “Vow” as “one of the greatest debut singles ever released.” This is ridiculous. The song was easily my least favorite on the album. It makes attempts at being gritty like NIN but comes nowhere near in terms of either intensity or wordplay. “Only Happy When It Rains,” is probably the band’s best known song, and it’s also a far better single than “Vow.”
This album is plenty grunge but thanks to Manson’s vocals, it’s more accessible to a pop audience. But then again, as a result, this Garbage is only half as dirty as its compatriots.
INTERESTING FACT: The original packaging for the album was covered in actual pink, vampy feathers, providing a storage nightmare for Circuit Citys everywhere.