Eating the scraps
It is believed, in some critical quarters, that Garbage is a soulless band--the product of three producers so in tune with their studio environment they have lost their passion in their rush to master technology. After all, producers are so often the people who shape the chaos and regulate the noise in the studio, the engineers and technicians who flatten the peaks and valleys in their quest for a band's "perfect" sound--even though the producer often doesn't hear the sound in a band's collective head, doesn't know for what the band is searching. Garbage--which is fronted by former Silverfish singer Shirley Manson and began as a collaborative effort between Butch Vig (best known for producing Nirvana's Nevermind), Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson--is written off by naysayers who hear only the perfection and don't hear the dirt and discord underneath the polished surface.
The band's eponymous debut, released last year, is actually a bizarre and often intoxicating hodgepodge of ideas and sounds--a rock album with dance beats, weird blurts of electronic white-noise silence inserted to disconcerting effect, studio effects and sly samples (the Clash's "Train in Vain" runs throughout "Stupid Girl") piled atop simple and grimy riffs. If Ruby is the flavor of the moment, then Garbage renders it a bland vanilla; if Portishead is the harbinger of ethereal disco-rock, then Garbage has heard the call and rendered it a faint echo.
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Much of the band's effectiveness comes not from the "sound" at all but from Manson, who comes on like a "Supervixen" at the beginning ("Come down to my house and stick a stone in your mouth/You can always pull out if you like it too much") then plays the sad martyr who grows angrier throughout the course of the record; by the end, she admits she's "lost" and "cruel" without her lover's touch. Manson is one of those rare singers who says more with her inflection than her words, whose whispers and moans and wails reveal something unsaid in her asseverations.
Unlike the Rentals, who share the bill with Garbage and come through town for the third time in just a matter of months, Garbage doesn't peddle sound for its own sake. The Rentals are fascinated with the noise that you can get from an old Moog synthesizer and other "ancient" new-wave instruments, and in the end they do nothing more than update Gary Numan and render his sound even more dry and cold; they're a gimmick for gimmick's sake, an in-joke created by musicians (from Weezer and that dog.) who've told the punch line so often they've forgotten why it was ever funny. With Garbage, though, there's genuine passion underneath the studio trickery and effects, an implicit sound between the most explicit ones.
Garbage performs February 24 at Deep Ellum Live. The Rentals open.