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Review: Garbage – Version 2.0

This review was originally published in the June 1998 issue of Spin. On the occasion of our list of best alt-rock songs of 1998, we’re republishing it here.

Back in 1995, the marriage of three Midwestern grunge producers and one Scottish female veteran of Goth-lite never-wozzers Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie didn’t appear to be the most direct route to the heart of electronica-tinged hipness. But Garbage couldn’t have happened at a better time—they fused raw rawk and production sheen, Yank and Brit, guitars and samplers, just at the point when alt-rock tried to mix authenticity with accessibility only to end up with Hootie.

In 1998, with every rocker who has an ear to the sonic ground resorting to dance-driven gadgetry, the stakes are raised for Garbage; stop moving for a second, and last year’s “being ahead of the curve” becomes this year’s MOR. But spending the better part of ’97 in the studio has paid off massively for the Manson family; Version 2.0‘s super-fussy electronic textures give Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails a serious run for their knob-twiddling. Sure, Björk is more radical and Stereolab are more highly evolved, but Garbage have the edge over both when it comes to taking aural avant-gardism to the masses. By crafting more fully realized tunes, penning lyrics with a specificity that’s at once personal and universal, and pumping up the BPMs with an enthusiasm you can feel, these unlikely stars have morphed from a studio project into an actual band, one that’s created a nonstop singles aggregation that’s going to make the crap glutting Modern Rock radio suck even worse.

With a frontwoman who grew up during new wave’s glory days and the rest of the band old enough to remember classic Top 40, Garbage have reached back for songwriting and performance inspiration, even while their sound-processing penchant embraces the future. “Push It” quotes not only the Salt-N-Pepa jam but also the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby”; Romeo Void, David Bowie, the Pretenders, and Janice Galloway get their props elsewhere. Real strings, treated woodwinds, and plenty of artificially flavored but utterly yummy ear candy sweeten up a consistently catchier batch of soon-to-be-hits, while also broadening the debut’s sulkiness with greater extremes of darkness and light.

Marriage hasn’t made Shirley Manson any more of a goody-goody: “You look so fine / I wanna break your heart and give you mine” is as tender as she gets. Lesser gals may have stolen some of her thunder, but taking time off to craft alt-rock’s very own Ray of Light has Manson poised for world domination. First time around she got lucky; now the original Ginger Spice and her cohorts truly deserve it.