Garbage – Still Not Cool, Still Pretty Fantastic

I don’t think Garbage were ever cool. Imagine trying to describe them in a game of Guess The Band. “OK, mid-to-late 90s. Not Britpop though. Kind of rock but with, like, electronic bits and, hmm, maybe even techno? Big pop hooks. Huge. Oh yeah, and the singer’s a girl who likes – well, loves – the old eyeliner. Any guesses?”


Anyway, Garbage weren’t cool, but they could be pretty fantastic. They made music that attacked like rock but seduced with pop smarts. In their own, alterna-90s way, tunes like ‘Stupid Girl’, ‘Push It’ and ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’ were ‘Hard Candy’ before Madonna heard the term. And as well as channelling angst, which they did like an Olympic angst-channelling team, Garbage could be smart and insightful: ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ saves you from ever having to ask a Goth the question “Hey, what’s it like to be you then?”

Of course, Garbage’s trio of male muso/producer types weren’t newbies – one of them, Butch Vig, had worked on ‘Nevermind’. But the band was made by its fourth member, a hollering Scotswoman called Shirley Manson. She was red and intense, like a boil about to burst. Unlike a bacterial infection of the hair follicle, Shirley was also sexy as hell. “You crucified me but I’m back in your bed / Like Jesus Christ coming back from the dead,” she sang on ‘Vow’. Saffron from Republica could never have pulled off a line like that.

Garbage ran out of snarl halfway through the last decade – “indefinite hiatus”, I think, was the official cliché – but now they’re back. A new album named ‘Not Your Kind Of People’ is due in May and early signs are encouraging. Recent comeback track/website freebie ‘Blood for Poppies’ prowls like a lion that got laid – with good reason; its chorus slow-humps your earholes. ‘Battle In Me’, the “official UK lead single” that premieres today, is even better. I’d say something about a “bloody war of attrition” if the lyrics didn’t already feature that exact expression. Anyway, think military-style drums, stop-start hooks and a bassline that’s on loan from ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. Brilliant.

Neither track contains a dubstep breakdown or an Azealia cameo or a try-hard reference to Twitter. Both tracks sound like Garbage and Garbage still aren’t cool. But on this evidence, they could still be pretty fantastic.