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What's in a Band Name

[whitespace] Garbage
Aptly Named?: Garbage (from left, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, Shirley Manson and Steve Marker) is nothing if not canny about the dictates of the marketplace.

The upgrade is minimal on Garbage's 'Version 2.0'

By Gina Arnold

BECAUSE THEY tend to be both lazy and facile, rock critics have a penchant for one-sentence reviews. Thus, GTR (a band featuring Steve Howe) was once assessed by Musician as "SHT." Creem reviewed Jackson Browne's Running on Empty by adding merely, "... and grinding to a halt." Of course, a band with a name like Garbage cries out for this kind of treatment. Indeed, the group's self-titled first record could easily be dismissed in two words: "Aptly named."

Such an assessment is too simplistic, but the fact was that the 1995 album Garbage was garbage--well-crafted and extremely popular but also disposable, a cynical blend of popular-but-empty elements that play well on MTV. Garbage's second offering, Version 2.0 (Almo Sounds), is also disposable but slightly more likable. Only slightly, though.

The band still consists of sexy Scottish singer Shirley Manson and a boring male backing trio. It is directed and crafted by famed producer Butch Vig, and like so many records created by sound engineers, it is a deeply shallow piece of work.

Vig produced Nirvana's Nevermind and subsequently became the hottest producer in the land, helming AOR (Always on Radio) Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins and records by Urge Overkill, L7 and others. He singlehandedly created a specific sound: a buzz-guitar-filled brand of shiny pop grunge.

This sound is now endemic to rock radio, and as a reward for this service, record companies bid on the chance to give him a big contract to do as he pleased. Vig--who was once in a Madison, Wis., band called Firetown--used the money to put together a new group with his old buddies Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. This time, having got a whiff of how the music business works and not being total idiots, they hired a pretty girl to sing for them, former Angelfish vocalist Manson.

Garbage is, in short, a systemically, rather than musically, awful entity: the embodiment of all bad things about the record business. One look at Garbage and you know success was guaranteed because Vig has juice in the industry. This isn't to say that Garbage's music is either good or bad--it's just to say that the band would have sold the same amount of records either way.

In truth, Vig writes reasonably melodious music and produces it so that it sounds just like everything else on radio (most of which he also produced). What little the band has in the way of personality depends for the most part on Manson, and though she's very pretty, an adept singer and a highly professional video-babe, she's not exactly Ms. Charisma or Ms. Original.

At her best, she sounds like Chrissie Hynde, and at her worst, Pat Benatar. (She looks more like the latter, complete with a taste for fashionably cut stretch clothing.) In the lyrics, Manson's pose is that of a woman who needs men a lot and is depressed, hysterical and crazy--not the most inspirational mix. The last album's "Only Happy When It Rains," "Queer" and "Stupid Girl" were all about subjects as enervating as their titles--and they were all huge hits.

Version 2.0 also fixates on sexual obsession--"Temptation Waits" and "Sleep Together" most notably--but the album boasts a couple of slightly more complex and upbeat tunes as well. The wonderfully catchy "When I Grow Up" invokes the careless attitude of youth: "When I grow up/I'll be stable/When I grow up/I'll turn the tables." It's got a great drum track and is also the first Garbage song that's about an idea rather than a person. Manson even sounds downright sincere.

"Push It"--an attempt at disco grunge for the year 2000--samples U2, Madonna and "Don't Worry, Baby" by the Beach Boys. "Special" borrows from Hynde, of whom Manson does a sly imitation. (Vig, of course, doesn't take any chances by sampling Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu or something unpopular like that.) Incidentally, every song is overlayered, overdubbed and overproduced. I can't imagine Garbage doing an unplugged set of this material.

In short, the Garbage oeuvre is extremely workmanlike. The current single, "I Think I'm Paranoid," is a case in point, an angst-ridden number that uses Nirvana's soft-hard-soft formula to good effect. And there's lots more of Vig's trademark buzzy guitar, seesaw keyboards and techno-influenced sound effects where that came from.

Really, the worst thing about the album is that if you heard the first record, you've heard this one. Version 2.0 might make good shareware, but it's not quite worth buying outright.

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of Metro.

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