Album: Version 2.0 – Garbage
Review: Uncut, June 1998
Author: David Stubbs
“THERE ARE surprisingly few bands like Garbage, bands operating in that shadowy, uncertain zone between the flesh of rock and the metal of techno. They’re all but alone in stepping into the breach left by the demise of The Cure and The Banshees. That their debut album sold three million copies suggests that there’s a hunger for what they’re doing in a time when the gap between rock’s Luddite traddism and techno’s bleep and booster extremism has never been greater.
Version 2.0 is, as its software-orientated title suggests, an upgrading of essentially the same model as the first album. It’s just a bit more of everything – just that bit smoother, rougher, harder, cooler, warmer, more efficient, more fucked up.
‘Temptation Waits’, the opener, with its whiplash backbeat and matt black exteriors, sets the tone – like some PVC panther, Shirley Manson establishes the character she maintains throughout the album, taunting, sensual, predatory, desperate, self-loathing, nasty.
Interestingly, in real life Shirley Manson is a very nice individual with a sensible and balanced attitude towards the stardom she never expected, who carries herself as if unaware of her Barbie-goth looks.
When she sings/breathes, “Watch my temper / I go mental / I try to be gentle”, the fact she’s only playing the role of a disturbed cyberbitch doesn’t make her “bogus” – rather, this is a perfect, controlled simulation, well-scripted, well-acted, whose psychological accuracy is underpinned by the electro-morphing shifts and turns in the man-made fabric of the sound. This is virtual emotional authenticity.
Garbage actually work with conventional rock structures of verse, middle and chorus – ‘Special’ is a great hunk of turbo-charged janglepop that could have been made any time in the last 20 years. It’s the way Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig (collectively responsible for the instruments, samples and loops) turn these songs inside out, shift from colour to black and white, cave them in at key moments of epiphany and crisis on the likes of ‘Medication’ and ‘Sleep Together’ that gives them the jarring detail, the full-bore impact lacking in straight grunge for all its sweat and hoarse platitudes.
Or take ‘Push It’, the single, loosely incorporating the chant from The Beach Boys‘ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’. The sense of plunging into the sexual unknown is exacerbated by the physical plunge the sound seems to take as if right down into the troubled recesses of Shirley Manson’s brain, midway through.
This is a plastic, contrived album made largely on fake instruments using studio trickery.
I heartily recommend it.”
The emergence of Garbage via the eponymous debut album in 1995 was timely, certainly here in the UK, as it offered something just that little different and edgier from the many, admittedly excellent ‘Britpop’ albums released that year.
Three years later and the musical landscape had changed quite substantially in a way that, looking back now all these years later, was as important and as welcome as the sort of revolution of the punk/new wave era. There were comedown records offered by the likes of Pulp and Massive Attack, there were innovative and imaginative albums by Beastie Boys, Beck and The Beta Band, there was some proof that Scotland was continuing to punch above its weight as Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian and Idlewild all released what would prove to be some of their most enduring records, while our cousins in Wales had a stellar year thanks to Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
In the midst of all this, Garbage released a second album, one which, as David Stubbs makes clear, wasn’t all that different from the multi-million selling debut except for the fact it managed to sound ‘smoother, rougher, harder, cooler, warmer, more efficient, more fucked up.’ Strangely enough, Version 2.0 reached #1 here in the UK where the debut had only managed to hit #6, but when all things were added up in due course, it sold fewer copies. It was almost as if the fans of the debut had rushed out to buy the new effort, only to find that it being a bit more fucked-up meant it didn’t get too many listens. Even today, it’s a CD (it was never released on vinyl until the 20th Anniversary) that you will come across regularly in charity and second-hand shops, with the record-buying public willing to decree it as landfill. Just three years later, the sales of the third album would be less than 20% of the debut.
Maybe it’s the fact that so many weren’t able to stomach the contents of Version 2.0 that the music snob in me gravitates to it more than the debut. Or maybe it’s just that it’s an excellent and enduring collection of songs, even if one of them seems to stray too close for comfort at times to Shania Twain territory:-
But the PJ Harvey tribute elsewhere more than compensates:-
One of four hit singles from the album, with this being the best-known:-
mp3: Garbage – Push It
One thing worth recalling is that Garbage, were by now considered to be just the right side of mainstream to be offered the opportunity to perform the theme song to the next James Bond film, one that was released in 1999:-
Composed by David Arnold, with lyrics by Don Black who was a veteran of the Bond themes, it was a real shock to those of us expecting something akin to the first two albums, being a real throwback to the sort of classic Bond themes tunes I had grown up with, whether watching them on TV or later, in the company of my dad at the cinema. The review in Melody Maker was incredibly sniffy:-
“You know what this sounds like before you hear it. If the people in charge want Garbage, then why not let them do what Garbage do?”
Or maybe let them stretch themselves a bit, proving they were happy to allow lead singer Shirley to briefly imagine herself as Bassey and not Manson.