In one of the most felicitous international musical marriages in memory, Edinburgh singer/guitarist Shirley Manson shelved the go-nowhere Angelfish and reluctantly joined an unpretentious trio of Wisconsin-based studio rats led by ex-Spooner drummer (and producer of a new generation: Killdozer, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Soul Asylum, Smashing Pumpkins) Butch Vig. Together, they became Garbage, a frighteningly good band with an A Team’s worth of complementary skills. Sounding like a diverse stack of 1994 hits by a half-dozen bands, Garbage is a casebook of sharply constructed and propulsive songs, gimmicky and brilliant noir production, overcharged guitar-and- electronics rock and domineering, trenchantly provocative lyrics. In synch with the pointedly borrowed sonic signatures, the words flip a friendly finger at the Jesus and Mary Chain (“Only Happy When It Rains”), Nine Inch Nails (“As Heaven Is Wide,” “Not My Idea”), Hole (“Vow”), the Breeders (“Dog New Tricks”), Adrian Belew (“Queer”), My Bloody Valentine (“Supervixen,” which fits an attention- grabbing total dropout three seconds into the album) and other could-be Lollapaloozers.
Like the first Sloan album, Garbage‘s effortlessly eclectic citations owe so much to so many that the issue of influences becomes a joke: of course that’s what they’re doing, and what of it? Hard-hitting, intelligent rock of intrinsic strength and witty presentation is its own reward; Manson’s singing is decisively original, and such memorable lines as “I’m riding high upon a deep depression” or “If God’s my witness, God must be blind” make fine additions to the grumpy bon mot compendium. A virtual sampler of uncommon imagination, Garbage is as good as, or better than, most of the work of the bands it acknowledges.
Ironically, Angelfish’s first longplayer fails for the very reason Garbage succeeds. Having extracted itself as a quartet from the pompous Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie (a six-strong Simple Minds/Echo and the Bunnymen wannabe serious and intemperate enough to script and sing lyrics for God) — moving Manson from a supporting role to center stage in the process — the Scottish group can’t seem to decide who it wants to be on Angelfish: Siouxsie and the Banshees? Cheap Trick? Blondie? The Pretenders? Holly and the Italians? (Although one of the album’s best songs was written by Holly Vincent, it’s not the track that sounds the most like her old band.) Glibly enabling production by ex-Talking Heads Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth exacerbates the confusion, leaving Manson’s strong vocal presence to idle in this skillful but diffident wheel-spinner. The EP contains Vincent’s “You Can Love Her,” two Angelfish tunes and a cover of Patti Smith’s “Kimberly.”