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The Boston Phoenix Shirley's Temple

Garbage get grrrl power.

By Matt Ashare

MAY 11, 1998:  Less than 30 seconds into "Temptation Waits," the first track on Garbage's new Version 2.0 (Almo Sounds -- in stores this Tuesday), just as the ticking techno beats begin to mesh with an undulating bass line and sequenced synth vibrato, with singer Shirley Manson whispering sweet somethings about wolves in sheep's clothing in my ear, I'm already thinking Blondie, as in "Heart of Glass." Manson's no blonde, but she can play one on CD. And she does a dark-haired, dangerous vixen pretty well too. Cocky, vulnerable, tender, cruel, angry, forgiving, dirty, sweet, sensual, prickly -- they're all part of her repertoire. That's why the goth kids heard sincere melancholy in "Only Happy When It Rains" and the rest of us thought we detected a wicked little tongue in Manson's cheek. She was having her trash and talking it too.

Garbage may have started as the brainchild of Nevermind producer Butch Vig, the drummer-turned-studio-wiz who made grunge possible by sharpening up the hooks in "Smells like Teen Spirit." It was Vig's band because he was the sole known quantity when Garbage (Almo Sounds) hit the charts in 1995. But that lasted only as long as it took for folks to notice Manson, the Scottish singer who's built like PJ Harvey and who'd previously been wasting her time not being sweet enough in a band called Silver Fish. Now Garbage are Manson's band, and Vig, though still nominally the drummer (he plays 'em live, but most of the rhythm tracks sound looped and processed on the disc), is back to doing what he does best -- producing. His player/producer buddies Duke Erikson (guitar/keyboards) and Steve Marker (bass/guitar/sampling) are in on the studio wankery as well, which goes a long way toward explaining how one of the tracks on Version 2.0 -- "Hammering in My Head" -- ended up with, as the press release reveals, "over 100 tracks of pounding loops and noises flying in and out of the mix."

Too many cooks in the soul kitchen is not usually a recipe for success, but Garbage are an unusually well-balanced outfit. Like most good producers, Vig has a keen ear for what sells -- a big part of his job is to steer bands in the direction of what is marketable. And he's uncommonly willing to sublimate whatever tendencies he may have to overcook his own music -- to serve, as they say, the songs. So don't sweat the "100 tracks" of pounding loops and noises: "Hammering in My Head" is a high-velocity blast of aerodynamically sound disco metal just spare enough for you to be able to hear Manson inhale before she blows you away with the sexual bluster of a line like "I knew you were mine for the taking when I walked in the room." There she sounds almost as if she were impersonating Bono on a bender, as he brashly busts into a pub in his Zoo TV shades with his predator eyes on the chick in the corner. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

There is, however, no mistaking the Chrissie Hynde appropriation garnishing the tail end of smooth-as-silk "Special," a tune sung so sweetly, you're tempted to forget that Manson's calling the object of her affection an asshole. And just in case you don't immediately connect the quaver in her voice to the great Pretender, Manson drives the point home by copping a line from Hynde -- "We're the talk of the town." Maybe it's just her way of proving she can sample like the best of 'em. But that's petty theft compared to what she does in "Push It," a track so badly in need of a vocal flourish to match the salient guitar hook that surfaces in its murky technospheres that Manson has pillaged the words and melody of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby." Don't worry, Shirley, Vig cleared it the way he would any other sample. That's something any good producer knows how to do. In fact, Brian Wilson is now reported to be a big fan.

Left to her own devices, however, Manson does just fine. On Garbage she was cast -- as so often is the case with beautiful women in Hollywood -- as a co-star, with Vig's cinematic electro-organic instrumental textures and dense gothic atmospheres getting top billing. But on Version 2.0 she dominates the mix with an almost sadistic joie de vivre, teasing "Bend me, break me, any way you need me" in a tough-girl Patti Smith voice on the guitar-driven chorus of "I Think I'm Paranoid," strutting all bluesy like PJ Harvey through the noisy, sexually charged "Wicked Ways" as she confesses "I'd done things I never thought I'd do," until she sounds like her own woman. And for all her chameleon-like skill at accommodating the techno-patchwork pop of Vig's multitracking mind, it's her force of personality that ultimately keeps Version 2.0 on the right track.

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