The unhappy-go-lucky world of Garbage

By Peter Lee
May 27, 2004

Where, oh where, is Garbage?

It’s been three years since the noisy pop supergroup released their last album, and rumors have been running rampant:

“The new album’s coming out soon.” – No, it’s delayed. Again.

“It’s being recorded in Madison, Wis.” – No, Los Angeles. – No, it’s Madison again.

“They’re recording with Debbie Harry and Marilyn Manson.” – No, they’re ...What?

There have been no news updates on their official web site for several months. Their message board is down. What’s a fan to do?

Ever since their self-titled debut in 1995, Garbage has been making alternative dance music accessible to the masses, winning rave reviews while crafting powerful tracks that join loud guitars and drums with samples, loops and perfect production. Producers Butch Vig (who helmed Nirvana’s “Nevermind”), Duke Erikson and Steve Marker had been experimenting in the studio when they saw Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson (no relation to Marilyn) performing on TV in another band. They called her and asked her to join the group, and they released their debut album in 1995, the first of three Top 20 albums.

“Garbage” and “Garbage 2.0” featured standout dance tracks such as “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl” and “Push It” – dark, bold, experimental sounds for a bunch of 30- and 40-somethings who referred to their group as a “project.” The band then turned to the roots of rock with their third album, “Beautifulgarbage,” which featured some ballads, R&B, bubblegum and even a Phil Spector knockoff. Some fans didn’t like the new sound, but it seemed to be just another experiment for a band who was always seeking something new.

Apparently, though, things weren’t as rosy as their last album suggested. “Because we were all going through such dark times in our lives at that point we deliberately strove to make some uplifting music to take our minds off of it,” Manson told Houston radio station 94.5 The Buzz. “It gave us our most critically acclaimed album of our career, but the process to get there was a horrible one and I wouldn’t want to repeat it. Hopefully we can now go back to embracing the doom and gloom we’ve always loved in our music.”

Things went from bad to worse. Manson underwent vocal cord surgery in June 2003, delaying production on their fourth album. Then, a backhoe (!) ripped through their recording studio at 3 a.m. – just one hour after the band had left for the evening.

The four decided they needed a change of scenery. So it was off to Los Angeles to record four tracks with John King, who has produced releases by, among others, Beck, Hanson and the Beastie Boys. Having an outside producer was a new direction for Garbage. (Who needs a producer when you have three in the band already?) Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Beck’s bass player, injected new life into the project as well. And yes, the group has collaborated with shock rocker Marilyn Manson on a track. (Reports of Debbie Harry recording with them were false.)

Vig says the album is a return to the group’s more experimental tendencies. “It’s a lot more raw,” he recently told Rolling Stone magazine. “There’s been more live playing and a lot more ad-libbing going on. Instead of really crafting the songs, we’re leaving them a lot looser.”

Vig mentioned two possible tracks appearing on the album – “Hangin’ with the Bitches” (“Sort of a Talking Heads funky groove but a lot darker and noisier”) and “Right Between the Eyes” (“More of a full-on rock song that we’re pretty chuffed with”). Shirley Manson has suggested a possible name for the album: “Hands on a Hard Body,” named after a competition in Texas in which people try to win a truck by seeing who can keep their hand on the body of the truck the longest.

And, finally, reports are still surfacing that Garbage will release the long-awaited album of B-sides that has been in the making for almost as long as the band has been together. The band has some 28 songs that have appeared on various singles and soundtracks but have not been compiled on one CD.

Judging by the music, things are looking down for Garbage – which means they’re happy. I think. (Remember, this is a band whose optimistic songs include “Only Happy When It Rains,” “I Think I’m Paranoid” and “Kick My Ass.”) Shirley Manson has even taken up blogging on Garbage’s official web site. In between tales of her exercise routine and hairstyle horror stories, she gives us a glimpse into the recording process and the band’s mood.

“Oooohhh....I am FINALLY having so much fun making this record,” she wrote in January. “It feels like how you imagine making records would be. Exciting and creative and joyous. And we’ve just made so much progress in a week that I can actually imagine we might finish this damned thing afterall!!!!”

Let’s hope so.

Related link: Garbage's official site