Garbage: A Rocking Female-Fronted Band

My teenage obsession with Nirvana and grunge music led naturally to an appreciation for several alternative bands, especially those fronted by female singers. Garbage, headed by Shirley Manson and her amazing voice, perfectly embodies that genre of female-driven rock. Even though Shirley Manson is the most well-known member, Garbage was founded by Duke Erikson, Butch Vig (producer of Nirvana’s album Nevermind), and Steve Marker, who took the name from some early rude comments that their music sounded like garbage.

The trio began initially as remixers who did songs for acts like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and U2, but they wanted to translate the ideas that guided their remixes into an actual band. After some initial recording sessions, the three men decided they wanted a female lead, and ideally one without a “chirpy” high-pitched voice. Around this time, they saw Shirley Manson perform in a video with her band, Angelfish, and decided to track her down.

The four members of Garbage initially met in London and the three men invited Shirley back to Wisconsin to audition. Although the audition did not go well, Shirley pushed for another chance when Angelfish broke up. She had no experience with studio recording sessions and struggled to come up with lyrics on the spot, but the band invited her to join, and they quickly outlined some of their biggest songs together, like “Stupid Girl” and “Queer.” When they released their self-titled debut album, it did extremely well in the United Kingdom and Australia. This album also featured “Only Happy When It Rains,” anthem to depressed teens everywhere.

Garbage followed their initial album with Version 2.0, which debuted at number one in the United Kingdom and 13 in the United States. The album received two Grammy Award nominations: Album of the Year and Best Rock Album. It also achieved “soundtrack to my life” status and was on heavy rotation during much of my junior year of high school. At the time I had never heard anything like “I Think I’m Paranoid” or “Push It,” and I could not get enough. Version 2.0 secured the band’s commercial success, leading to a tour with Alanis Morissette and a contract to perform the theme song for the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough.

The band’s third album, Beautiful Garbage, received only mixed reviews from critics, which I don’t understand. Despite the lukewarm feedback, Rolling Stone listed it among the Top 10 Albums of the Year. Unfortunately, the next album, Bleed Like Me, caused tensions between the band members and they declared an indefinite hiatus that lasted for 18 months before beginning work on Absolute Garbage, which came out in 2007.

In 2010, Shirley Manson confirmed that the band had started work on a new studio album to be released independently. The newest album, Not Your Kind of People, sounds much like their first album—it has that aggressive energy behind it. Free from any sort of contract, the band had free reign to create, which seems to have renewed their musical creativity.

Since Not Your Kind of People, Garbage has released a cover of “Because the Night” for Record Store Day 2013 and “Girls Talk” for Record Store Day 2014. Shirley and Butch have both confirmed that the band is once again working on new material. I’m excited to see if they continue in the same direction back toward their roots and embrace the high-energy feel of the first album.