photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to GARBAGE was the music video for the song "STUPID GIRL" off their self-titled debut GARBAGE (ALMO, 1995) record which i saw on MTV at a relative's house in NEW JERSEY in the summer of 1996. it was my first trip stateside since my family's move to NIGERIA and it was during that impressionable period that i similarly discovered METALLICA and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE among several other bands.
obviously the first thing i noticed was how ridiculously COOL and POWERFUL a front-woman SHIRLEY MANSON was (and still is). usually women in bands have to put up with a bullshit double-standard and have to come off submissive, coquettish and demure to be accepted, but here was a dynamic SCOTTISH woman that took no prisoners. just an absolute force of nature. tracks like "VOW," "I'M ONLY HAPPY WHEN IT RAINS," "QUEER", "SUPERVIXEN" and the aforementioned "STUPID GIRL" convey a forceful INNER STRENGTH while paradoxically projecting an affecting sense of VULNERABILITY. MANSON is so compelling a singer that it is easy to take her for granted, which is why i think she should be regarded as one of the great ALTERNATIVE ROCK singers of the period without question. right up there with LAYNE STALEY, CHRIS CORNELL, SCOTT WEILAND, KURT COBAIN, SHANNON HOON and PERRY FARRELL. i know i just listed a bunch of dudes, but that is kind of the sad fact about MANSON in that she was one of a rare breed of ALTERNATIVE ROCK front-women that played by their own rules (the nearest analogue i can think of within the genre is COURTNEY LOVE or DONITA SPARKS).
just as crucial an ingredient is the production. GARBAGE stands as a seminal record during the period for its revolutionary hybrid sound that seemed to marry ALTERNATIVE ROCK with droning SHOEGAZE-inspired textures and POST-PUNK and SYNTH POP-inspired electronic flourishes. there were bands that played with this hybrid sound before and after, but GARBAGE perfected it and popularized it. its interesting to consider that the band has not one but three record producers as members in that of BUTCH VIG, STEVE MARKER and DUKE ERIKSON (all having been involved to differing degrees with SMART STUDIOS). VIG of course being widely celebrated for his singular production work with NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and the SMASHING PUMPKINS' GISH (CAROLINE, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) records among others. it is a testament to his production abilities as well as capacity for collaboration that GARBAGE sounds nothing like either band. GARBAGE is its own sonic animal.
my favorite track on the record is "MILK" which i have long found deeply affecting. during this period i felt culturally ISOLATED being abroad in a new environment away from my childhood friends in CALIFORNIA. being in middle school is difficult enough, but the stark, unadulterated realities of NIGERIA was an absolute turning point in my life and there was a period of transition. when i listen to "MILK" it takes me right back to that headspace of being somewhere other than where you wished to be. that sense of LONGING and DISTANCE is palpable in the song. of course, i eventually accepted my new reality and never looked back but that song evokes that sense of deep MELANCHOLY brought on by social DISCONNECTION and ISOLATION in a manner only matched by THE SMITHS and JOY DIVISION in my estimation.
i love the debut GARBAGE record. i highly recommend it to anyone interested in true risk-taking within an established genre. in my opinion, GARBAGE transformed ALTERNATIVE ROCK and progressed it forward by seamlessly integrating modern recording technology and making such acceptable by both fellow musicians and the general public alike. it is a truly great record that is most definitely worth checking out.