8. Garbage, Garbage
I’m pleased that I sit in Madison, Wisconsin as I write this post. Seattle was the epicenter of the explosion of grunge rock that shifted, defined, and to a large degree eventually decimated college rock in the early-to-mid-nineteen-nineties, but the state capital of Wisconsin is connected to a murky asterisk in any geographic history of that shifting music scene. Madisonian Butch Vig had been in a few small, locally notable bands, Spooner and Fire Town among them. More importantly, as it turned out, Vig partnered with Steve Marker to open Smart Studios, a recording facility housed in a nondescript building on the city’s East Washington Avenue. It was there that Nirvana, took a first pass at many of the songs that would eventually populate the game-changing album Nevermind. Vig was their chosen producer, largely because Kurt Cobain and company liked the work he’d recently done with the Madison band Killdozer. To the degree that Vig was intimately involved with the formulation of the sound that swamped college and alternative radio, his next project as a band member was arguably a sort of atonement, or at least a counterargument that there was more to life than punky, sludgy guitars.
Vig openly acknowledged that Garbage was created in a part as an escape from the sonic rut he found himself. After many millions of copies were sold, Nevermind defined Vig, and his earlier work on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish only ratified his professional persona. In all fields of entertainment, success breeds uniformity, at least if the potentially pigeonholed person isn’t careful. Vig and his cohorts were growing numb from all the offers to work on albums for bang-and-bash bands. They started accepted different remixing gigs and found themselves intrigued by the liberation they were finding in the flurry of electronic sounds. Vig and Marker joined Duke Erikson (a bandmate of Vig’s in both Spooner and Fire Town) and started playing, deciding that the one missing element was a female vocalist. They found who they were looking for in Shirley Manson, a bonny Scottish lass who was the lead singer of Angelfish at the time. The quartet complete, Garbage went to work.
The band’s self-titled debut arrived in August of 1995. The lead single, “Vow,” perfectly established what Garbage was prepared to bring the the alternative rock smorgasbord: hooky songs, sensual vocals, quasi-industrial verve, and some real but lean instrumentation bolstering the digital studio effects. Garbage stood out, but that doesn’t mean they were an immediate success. Since Vig was the promotional hook for Garbage, the way the sound of the band conflicted with expectations was initially a commercial hindrance. Before long that changed, first with the burning fuse of “Only Happy When It Rains,” then with the hard punch of “Stupid Girl,” which delivered the band their sole trip to the Billboard Top 40. As different as it sounded from the norm, Garbage has its own unfortunate redundancy, locking into its groove too tightly. There are good songs across it, but it tends to morph into a bit of drone of buzzy pop and tenderly abstract lyrics. In a way that forecast what was to come, as each successive Garbage album was incrementally less exciting.
Somewhat surprisingly, Garbage has kept on going. Though there has been the occasional break, the band has largely been a going concern since their formation. Manson seemed a sure bet for a solo career, but different attempts at breaking out on her own ended in ruins with different albums scuttled before they were ever released. (She arguably fared a little better as a Terminator.) There were surely other opportunities that enticed for the various members of Garbage. even still, I can understand why they kept circling back to this particular home. If there’s once thing I’m learning right now, it’s that Madison beckons.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio
— 16 and 15: Let Your Dim Light Shine and Day For Night
— 14 and 13: Tales from the Punchbowl and Sleepy Eyed
— 12 and 11: Post and Deluxe
— 10: Yes
— 9: To Bring You My Love