CLASSIC ALBUM REVISITED – Garbage – Version 2.0

Garbage

When legendary Nirvana producer Butch Vig announced he had formed his own band in 1993 many in the music world figured it was a hobby project he would be complete before moving on to another producing gig. Garbage at its inception was considered a super band filled with knowing and famous producers fronted by a relatively unknown Scottish singer, Shirley Manson. It was suggested that the band would not have a long shelf life. Twenty-two years later Garbage has held it’s own in fluctuating music scene. As successful as the Garbage debut became, Version 2.0 was the verification that Garbage was anything but Garbage and would not be set out on schedule with the other refuse of the era.

The eponymous Garbage debut was a critically acclaimed if unexpected smash. Version 2.0 cemented the reputation of the each of the individuals in the band as leaders in their field. It also announced that Garbage was not just a one-off studio creation but well and truly a band with every intention of conquering the world on its own terms. If there were any doubts that Vig, Erikson, Marker and Manson were not serious about their intentions the doubts were put to rest with their successful sophomore release.

Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker brought to the band a lifetimes worth of production and experienced music making. That experience was married to Shirley’s insightful lyrics and lead singer presence. This combination made for a grand success and spectacular music which many would try to imitate but few would ever master. Platinum certified Version 2.0 would be nominated in 1999 for Grammy’s album of the year and best rock album. In 2000 the single Special would be nominated for Grammys best rock song and best rock performance by duo or group. Various artists at the time heralded the release as one of the best. None other than Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke, when interviewed during the time period, were asked what they would do if Radiohead folded, and they stated ask Garbage for a job. The release was on numerous best albums of the year lists and the video Push It garnered numerous video awards.

The record was produced by the band and recorded and mixed at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin. There was a high level of difficulty making a record as carefully put together as Version 2.0 and also making it sound fresh and original. The demand to match or top the amazing success of the debut didn’t make things any easier. The album took what had been accomplished on the debut and expanded it onto another level. The songs also reflected greater introspection, and in hindsight some of the angst Shirley was experiencing in her private life, dealing with fame and loneliness. It is a chronicle of pure pop emotion. Shirley throughout the songs emoted a knowing club girl persona with a soft tenderhearted centre underneath all the armour.

The pixilated start to Temptation Awaits pulsates as Shirley’s sultry singing draws in the listener. This song served notice that the debut was no fluke. “Temptation Awaits” is a magical mixture of electronica, alternative and pop sensibilities all delivered in a come-hither sexiness few could resist. The song itself speaks of wanting something you know will bring about a bad result. I Think I’m Paranoid continues in the same mindset starting off with the teasing statement of “You can look but you can’t touch”. The song intertwines the paranoid that was setting in with fame for Shirley and also channelled her inner Lolita. Shirley recreated the iconic moment of Sue Lyon’s Lolita of the classic movie tormenting James Mason’s Herbert to distraction while licking a lollipop. Shirley winds the tension to perfection in both her delivery and lyrics. “Bend me, break me, any way you need me”. The music also builds the tension to the breaking point.

On When I Grow Up the surface pop approachability belies the lyrics that speak to childhood confusion and growing up in less than the ideal situation. The lyrics play around the childhood lament of the title. At the time Garbage took a lot of heat for the “golden showers” lyric in the song. The song could be taken many different ways but addressed serious topics like child abuse and the music was deftly appropriate getting its point across without getting preachy. Medication Is an electronica song about depression yet is not depressing. Pointing out that society blames the sufferer and that the solution might not be found in yet another pill. “They’ve got me on some medication; my point of reference was askew…And so you call me co-dependent somebody laid the blame on me.” The song could have gotten maudlin handled the wrong way, kudos to the band for producing an engaging meditation on the medicated state.

Special is exactly that, and an unmistakable tribute to Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders. Shirley has admitted this song was a hat tip to Hynde’s “Brass in Pocket” and “Talk of the Town”. The song is catchy as hell with hooks galore. It is also a song for anyone who wakes up from the halo effect of a relationship to see way too many imperfections in the adored. “I thought you were special, I thought you should know, but I am out of patience I couldn’t care less.” A spectacular song that stands the test of time as fresh today as when it was first released.

Hammering In My Head as proof that the hits were relentless on the disc, consider this energetic dance electronica number. Garbage pulls out all the stops in the mix on this one. Their embarrassment of musical know-how is shown to perfection on this track. Shirley delivers on the vocals and lyrics with a song that is pure erotica without being labelled explicit. “You should be sleeping my love, tell me what you’re thinking of”, you get the idea where this is headed. Upon its release Push It gained a lot of attention because the song took the Beach Boys’ rift “Don’t Worry Baby” and worked the band’s special magic. The Beach Boys never sounded so good. The great guitar riff on this song defines it. A relationship song where are the person is totally trying to push the other person to their limits.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing is a personal favourite. A quieter song on the release, very insightful and is Shirley’s attempt to work through the madness of fame in a song. The advice of keeping your head down and powering through till you get to the better place is throughout the song. “ lately I’m not the only one, I’ve said don’t ever trust anyone, always the one who drags you down, maybe you’ll get what you want this time around, the trick is to keep breathing.” The funky bass line anchors the song like a lifeline throughout.

On Dumb like Hammer, it is total dance DJ time. I dare you not to dance to this tune. This song set a high bar for many others to follow and is impeccably produced. Sleep Together returns to the risqué theme that underlies many of the tunes on the disc. No punches are pulled and it is pretty obvious from the title what the lyrics are trying to convey. The song takes the Romeo Void song “Never Say Never” as a jumping off point and spins off from there. Typically a guy would sing lyrics like this; Shirley turns the tables as she proclaims that girls have needs too. Going on to spell it out so eloquently,” If we slept together I might like you better”. I have always thought there was some genius in sequencing the song Wicked Ways immediately after Sleep Together, “Wicked Ways” is almost a confessional in the aftermath of the results of the prior song.

The final song You Look So Fine is an earnest song about the awkwardness of getting up the nerve to speak to, ask out or take home the person of your dreams. The setting of the club as dawn is threatening and it is time to go home lingers over the song. It is an apt description of an all-consuming love for a bad boy who looks so fine. “You’ve got me tethered and chained, I hear your name and I’m falling over.” The keyboards over a gliding backtrack are effective and haunting. It is no surprise this album was a vast success. There is so much to like and the songs are impeccably constructed and performed. Version 2.0 was groundbreaking, heartfelt, fun, introspective, and even heartbreaking in even measure. One of the strongest sophomore releases by any band at its time. If you missed encountering this amazing disc the first go-round please avail yourself, you will not be disappointed.

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