Like most men (and probably most women) who saw Garbage on their first tour, promoting this debut album, I fell in love with Shirley Manson; totally unconditionally, head-over-heels in love. If she had clicked her fingers, I would have followed, asking questions. All despite reading that she once squatted over the kitchen table in her boyfriend’s apartment and took a dump in his bowl of cornflakes. She had caught him cheating apparently.
I’m always a little suspicious when rock bands enlist a hot lady to sing. Sex does sell, but so does talent and the other three quarters of Garbage already had that in spades. Drummer Butch Vig (the super-producer of Nevermind, Siamese Dream), guitarist Steve Marker (sound engineer on L7’s Bricks Are Heavy) and bassist Duke Erikson (guitarist with Spooner and Fire Town, both alongside Vig) started a new project in 1994 and decided on a female vocalist to distance themselves from the all-male bands they had prior experience with. The female angst thing was popular around the mid-‘90s, with Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks ploughing the same field, so Manson’s vocals fit right in.
I remember hearing Queer first, and thinking it sounded very different to everything else at the time. It was still rock, but with a dark, electronic pop edge. In fact, it sounds a lot like today’s stripper pop (as Dave Grohl calls it) but in 1995 it ticked enough boxes for my ears.
I saw them play at the Apollo in Manchester, supported by Bis, in March ‘96. I remember seeing the roadies set up the stage for the headliners, and noticing the sheer amount of technology in Marker and Erikson’s flight racks. The LEDs from the various amps, processors and effects units was dizzying, and created a great backdrop.
Right from their opening number – Queer, no less – Manson owned the stage. As the band played through the opening bars, she walked out wearing knee-high leather boots, a corset and a pink feather boa. Boom. Like a thunderbolt.
I even liked their follow-up album, Version 2.0, but by the time I saw them again, at Glastonbury in 2005, I had moved on. As such, I quickly forgot about the band. Times change, and all that.
Twenty years on, the debut has been re-released in a beautiful 45rpm double pink vinyl package. It sounds great, and has definitely taken me back to those post-grunge days. I still love Queer, but it’s I’m Only Happy When It Rains which really impresses me. I’d go so far as saying that it’s one of my favourite songs from that entire decade. That’s a huge call, considering the amount of great music that the ‘90s gave us, but there’s something about the song’s ‘pour your misery down’ refrain that just speaks to me.
Postscript: Sex might very well sell, but without any discernible talent, it’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. In the mid-2000s, Shirley Manson appeared as an antagonist in The Sarah Connor Chonic…, The Sarah Cronner Chon…, The Sarah Connorcles…ah fuck it, that lame Terminator TV series that swiftly got cancelled. Manson might ooze talent and sex appeal on stage, but she most definitely cannot act, and her unconventional looks (upside-down eyes, pale skin and bright ginger hair), which looked great on stage, just made her look odd among the stereotypically beautiful people on TV. The show was bad enough before she appeared, but she just seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.
Hit: I’m Only Happy When It Rains
Hidden Gem: Supervixen