Garbage: Absolute Garbage

Garbage - Absolute GarbageSynopsis: Four albums and seven Grammy® nominations later, Garbage has its first best of DVD collection -Absolute Garbage. Among the 15 Garbage music videos on DVD for the first time–including Vow, Only Happy When It Rains, Stupid Girl and Milk directed by Samuel Bayer (Nirvana s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Hole s Doll Parts, The Cranberries Zombie ) and Queer by Stephane Sednaoui (Red Hot Chili Peppers Give It Away )–are two previously unreleased in the U.S.: You Look So Fine and Shut Your Mouth. Also included is almost an hour of never-before-seen footage backstage and behind-the-scenes, live performances and interviews, spanning the band s entire career.

Absolute Garbage offers the best of a band that, to quote a lyric from Queer, has been the strangest of the strange, the coolest of the cool.

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Garbage: Absolute Garbage 8.0

“When someone tells you that today’s best new music is Garbage, believe them!”

I first heard of Garbage in 1995 when I picked up a sampler cassette at my local independent shop. Featuring their latest single, “Queer”, as well as excerpts of “Vow” and “Only Happy When it Rains”, this tape was played incessantly until I could finally get their debut album.

Immediately hooked, I wound up buying all the album’s various CD singles and even compiling an alternate version of their album from all the b-sides and remixes on offer – which I also played incessantly. Over the years, I picked up just about every release I could get my hands on.

I’m a HUGE fan.

By 2001, Garbage had already released three full-length studio albums and TONS of non-album tracks, including exclusive compilation tracks and even the theme to a James Bond film. Those six years were gold for those of us who dug them – we were constantly immersed in new ear candy.

And eye candy. Because, along with their edgy genre-bending blend of electronic, rock and pop music , Garbage had a visual style of their own: their releases were all accompanied with unique artwork, standout packaging and some superbly crafted, award-nominated music videos.

‘Absolute Garbage’ is a Best Of compilation that was released in 2007, collecting most of their singles as well as a new track, “Tell Me Where it Hurts”. This DVD companion piece was also released, compiling the accompanying videos in chronological order (for some reason, the new single was expurgated from North American editions).

I watched this collection on a night where I couldn’t be bothered, where I was too tired to focus, let alone take notes. And yet, after getting started, I just couldn’t stop: Garbage are simply that awesome. Their infectious hooks and catchy choruses excited me and I was eager for more; despite my fatigue, the hour whizzed by.

The music was compelling to the utmost, and I later had to  listen to hours of their stuff, but part of what drew me in was the unusual quality of their videos, which were all low-budget, yet instantly gratifying. Their concepts were almost all relatively simple but, combined with the music, it worked.

I was obviously totally blown away by Shirley Manson, who is a force of nature when she’s performing her music – whether it be live or on a set. As well, her eccentric qualities accentuate her appeal: she isn’t beautiful in the traditional sense, but she is smoking hot anyway; there’s just something about her.

The rest of the band actually complement her perfectly. All of them much older than she is, it creates a dividing line between them visually, like sinister uncles watching over their damaged niece. It’s a peculiar dynamic, but it works because it’s offset by the lighter, more playful, side of the band.

With 15 videos strung together back-to-back, ‘Absolutely Garbage’ clocks in at approximately an hour in length.

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Vow: The first single by Garbage, “Vow” features incisive guitars, brilliant beats and electronic textures. It’s absolutely awesome. I love the melancholy, disturbed bridge, too. There is no f-ing around with this one.

This gritty video takes us to a draped set adorned with old (’50s?) black and white televisions. Our first taste of the band is the fresh new face of Shirley Manson shaking about in her red fuzzy sweater, in total control of the screen. The rest of the band play on and there’s this weird, naked yellow man contorting himself in swaths of blue light. It’s an amazing introduction to Garbage. 9.0/8.0

2. Queer: I’m not a fan of this song outside the context of the album; it’s slow, and not that engaging. Basically, I enjoy the chorus, and that’s about it (I know I’m probably alone on this one).

The video is a black and white affair and it shows Manson drawing some guy to a house, with the rest of the band hanging about creepily. Then she gets the guy on the ground, tears off his clothes and shaves his head. Most of the video is shot from a first person perspective, suggesting that we’re the ones being drawn in. It’s alright. 6.5/6.0

3. Only Happy When It Rains:  Although “Vow” is a song with longer-lasting appeal, “Only Happy When it Rains” is the one that got its hook in me first. I dug the down-bearing guitar and bass as well as the catchy vocals, which build to a crescendo.

The video is a grungy, desolate blue and green warehouse set. Manson is in what would be her most well-known attire: plain pastel mini-dress, boots, with her red shoulder-length hair down. Basically, she sings while the rest of the band destroys musical instruments and shreds film. There’s also images of kids in costumes playing outside in a field. It’s okay, no more. 8.5/6.5

4. Stupid Girl: “Stupid Girl” is a super catchy tune, and it’s got a great bass line. It was everywhere at the time, remixed in countless ways. It isn’t their best, but it’s certainly notable and a fitting single.

The video is made to look very scratchy, dirty, grotty. It’s just a performance video (although the set has words painted here and there), with Manson singing under slightly bouffant hair and the band playing in the background. The lighting makes them look inky, which is a great stylistic choice.. 8.0/6.5

5. Milk: The album’s closing track and the last single to be culled from it, this is a luscious, gorgeous song of longing.

Appropriately, given the anthemic style of the song, this video is more cinematic than the others; it’s out of focus, with lots of flashing lights and lightly blowing wind. Mansion merely sings to the camera while moving in and out of focus, while the others hang about. 8.25/7.0

6. Push It: The first single from the band’s second album, ‘Version 2.0’, “Push it” is an pulsating track chock full of terrific samples and featuring a great beat. The chorus, in particular, is explosive. I was immediately hooked when I first heard it.

For this video, Manson shed her glam look, wearing little make-up and dressing relatively plainly. This is a weird one: she’s shopping in a grocery store with no other shoppers and nothing on the shelves when thieves come in dressed as nuns. Then it unravels, with the children of Midwich making an appearance, then a man with lightbulb for a head, a cemetery with big balloons in it, a model in a fish tank, fighting businessmen, SWAT team members having coffee, …etc. Whatever it is, or means, this video makes an impression. 8.5/7.5

7. I Think I’m Paranoid: This is a poppy song in the same vein as “Stupid Girl”. It’s very catchy, if a bit lightweight (aside for the guitar hook).

The black and white video echoes Björk’s “Violently Happy” in that the setting is a box and Manson affects similar poses as Björk. “I Think I’m Paranoid” also features all sorts of camera tricks like blurring, flashing, jagged movement. It’s alright. 8.0/7.0

8. Special: Another super catchy song from Garbage, but not nearly as gripping or edgy as the others. The best part are the background vocals (especially the triple vocal hook) and the interpolation of The Pretenders’ “Talk of the Town”.

The video is like a 3D video game. It begins with a opening scrawl, explaining that it takes place in the year 3030 and that Queen Astarte  is trying to defend her homeland against invaders. Then we end up watching Manson flying about in a weird aeroplane, trying to shoot down other pilots through some canyons. That’s about it. It really reminded me of ‘The Phantom Menace’. Did George Lucas get his inspiration for the podrace here? Anyway, the video ends with “To be continued…”  but there was never a follow-up to it, despite all the award nominations it got. 7.5/7.0

9. When I Grow Up: Another lightweight but catchy number, but I love the lyrics of this one, and there are wicked multibeats during the chorus.

The video consists of live concert footage. Strangely, someone  decided to mix cheers with the song even though it’s not actually live. The big highlight here is that Manson is totally in $#!tkicker mode. Want to see a real woman ROAR, here it is. She’s puny but this woman takes no prisoners. 8.0/7.0

10. You Look So Fine: This is a really lovely song, like a less fine “Milk”. The repetitive keys are pretty good, and are the key hook, but there’s also too much of it.

In the video, Manson is lying by some passed-out guy in an alien landscape, surrounded by sand dunes. The video is pretty, but it’s cheap-looking, like a modern version of a classic Star Trek episode. 8.0/7.0

11. The World Is Not Enough: This song was the main theme to the third Pierce Brosnan James Bond film. It’s an excellent 007 theme, powered by strings; it shows just how much co-writer and then-Bond composer David Arnold understood the formula. Manson’s voice isn’t really suited to the genre, sadly, but it remains an excellent tune.

The video is ambitious but looks a bit cheap: the setting is a concert gala. Manson is readying for her performance but we soon discover that she’s a double – the real Shirley Manson is dead, presumably murdered. Then we go back two weeks earlier to see that a Shirley Manson robot is being built. She is conditioned, prepared, and controlled in a lab area, before being unleashed on the concert hall. Greatest bit: Shirley Manson kissing Shirley Manson (take that Katy Perry!). Obviously, it all ends with a bang. 8.25/7.0

12. Cherry Lips: This is the second single from ‘beautifulganage’, but the first wasn’t included no doubt because it wasn’t a hit. I’m a huge fan of this song, but it might have been too much of a departure for fans, who expected something grittier. This is a VERY different sound for the band, more electronic, poppier – but SO hooky, due to keys and vocals. Again… BIG fan.

The video has the whole band performing in a studio, but most of the shots shows only their clothes, as they themselves are invisible. It’s a neat effect until Manson strips off her dress and all that’s left are boots and gloves. That doesn’t work so well. But what really ruins it is her new look: bleached blonde, short, near-pompadoured hair. She’s absolutely fetching, but it’s too dramatic a change. Was she trying to emulate P!nk? This also was too much of a departure for fans. 9.0/8.0

13. Shut Your Mouth: I didn’t like this song as an opener to the album, and was very surprised to see its release as a single. It starts “off”, with a slow groove and a slow rap, eventually kicking in a little bit, but not enough to salvage it.

The video is a concert footage with Manson looking like Justin Bieber. Don’t ask. 6.5/6.0

14. Why Do You Love Me: The first single from their fourth album, ‘Bleed Like Me’, “Why Do You Love Me” has a catchy guitar riff and an even catchier chorus. That is why I love you, Garbage.

The video is in black and white. It shows Manson waking up, going to the kitchen for breakfast, while the band are readying, painting a ‘Parallel Lines‘-like set. Then, together they watch old video footage of Manson. Afterwards, Manson sings bridge in the bathtub and then comes back out shouting the lyrics at the camera before rejoining the band for the close. Simple, but it works. 8.5/7.5

15. Bleed Like Me: This is a very beautiful song: soft, pretty, nice chords – no wonder it’s the album’s title track.

Oooooh, for the video, Manson’s dressed up in a nurse outfit that’s inspired by fetish nurse costumes. She looks really awesome in this get-up. She and the band are walking down hospital halls, she makes a bed, takes notes, rummages through files. I’m not sure what the story is, if any, but it’s the most elaborate of all their videos. It’s a fitting close to the set. 8.25/8.75

On top of these excellent videos, ‘Absolute Garbage’ also features a 70-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that culls material from throughout the band’s career, including interviews, concert footage and various shenanigans by the band members. There’s no narration and it only provides a glimpse at the band but, for fans, this is gold.

This is an excellent set. Although I wish that all the videos were included in it (“Androgyny” is a massive omission: the song and the video are yummy – the video being one of their best!) I am quite happy to even have this collection, imperfect as it is. In this day and age, you can never be sure if labels will bother.

Even though Garbage have not been a hot item since the unfortunate timing of ‘beautifulgarbage’ in 2001, I remain a mega fan; they are a band I can count on to give me the kind of pleasing ear candy I never tire of, no matter which direction they choose to go in. I totally dig their genre-bending ways, musically and thematically.

Although it’s merely a compilation, ‘Absolute Garbage’ makes abundantly clear that Garbage are anything but.

Date of viewing: February 10, 2014

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