What we have is a fantastic frontwoman singing a string of fundamentally average songs...
Shirley Manson straps on a guitar for a brief solo jaunt and people cheer. She explains how Butch Vig gets jealous by this uncritical adulation, toiling away thanklessly behind his drums without comment, when all his frontsiren have to do is look in the direction of a six-string, for people to coagulate into doe-eyed jelly. People cheer this as well.
Quite right too. Vig knew the rules when he left behind überproducer
status to assemble [a]Garbage[/a], his chromium-plated Big Rock Fantasy – the personality goes up front, the rest of you skulk in the shadows looking like dads. It’s classic, bankable pop formula – even if [a]Garbage[/a] themselves would be aghast at such a concept – and often, it works.
Shirley herself, looking like a Jamie Hewlett fantasy of a flapper-era lesbian, is almost impossible not to warm to. Her tunes are still capable of hitting the spot, too: ‘Vow’ and ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’ have the same clinical snarl as ever. ‘Silence Is Golden’ smears decimating guitar, the kind to bring a nostalgic tear to poor Butch’s eye, over what’s essentially a sweet torch-pop song.
The problem with this methodology is that any cracks in the facade are thuddingly obvious. ‘Shut Your Mouth’ is a curiously retroactive futurism, like [a]Republica[/a] covering [a]Faith No More[/a]’s
‘Epic’. Which is in no way a compliment. They manage to make an
encore cover of the [a]Rolling Stones[/a]’ ‘Wild Horses’
sound like [a]Catatonia[/a],
which can’t be easy. Or desirable, for that matter.
Manson belts out a bit of ‘Get Ur Freak On’ at one point, which is kind of great, but, along with ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ (which they’ve also been covering, albeit not tonight), could there
be two more obvious pop touchstones for [a]Garbage[/a] to reference?
There are times, still, when the whole experience lifts off like God’s own futuristic mothership, and you still believe in [a]Garbage[/a]’s self-perpetuating iconography. But the rest of the time – when what we have is a fantastic frontwoman singing a string of fundamentally average songs – you can’t just shut your eyes and pretend something’s happening.