Interscope Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/18/2003
I am almost terrified to write a review of a Garbage album. When Version 2.0 came out, I dismissed it for being too synthetic, not enough slow, menacing grooves, too hyper, too rave. Then, at a party in 1999, I heard Version 2.0 again and it sank in, infecting me immediately. What was a major disappointment in 1998 turned into the "great rock album that almost got away from me" discovery of 1999.
So, when Beautifulgarbage was released in 2001, it didn't initially set well with me. But, I remembered how Version 2.0 grew with each listen, so I went easy on their 2001 release. I gave it chances. I listened to it again and again. However, unlike Version 2.0, the more I listened to Beautifulgarbage, the more its weaknesses were revealed.
One of the major strengths of Version 2.0 when came out was the confidence displayed with the band and especially Shirley Manson's voice. Even if you preferred the slow-burning grooves of their landmark first album, you had to admit that Version 2.0 sounded like a band ready to take on the world. But, that was before the invasion of the Britneys and boy bands. Youth has always dominated music, but in late '90s and early '00s, it seemed to be everything. And Garbage was a bunch of middle-aged men and a lead singer well into her 30s.
Instead of bucking the trends and trying to go their own way, it seemed that Garbage was genuinely intimidated with this new slant on popular music. Billy Corgan famously blamed the new fickle trend of audiences as being the main reason why the Smashing Pumpkins disintegrated. But Garbage stuck together. And for the majority of Beautifulgarbage, it seemed like the band was so conscious of fitting in on radio that it forgot their most appealing asset: making really, really good pop and rock songs.
Take songs like "Shut Your Mouth," "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)" and "Breaking Up The Girl": Manson's vocals seem to be lighter than air, rather than her traditional low-octave raspy growl. The glossy, lip-smacking production of these three songs goes down easy, but it's too slick to resonate. In interviews before Beautifulgarbage was released, the band (especially drummer, uber-producer Butch Vig) expressed concern about how many albums were left in the band. Overproduction is one of the major signs of desperation. And that is one of Beautifulgarbage's biggest faults.
One of the most annoying songs on Beautifulgarbage is the Phil Spector-heavy "Can't Cry These Tears." It seems to be a cute, tongue-in-cheek homage to '60s supergroups like The Supremes. But the novelty wears thin quickly and it's a track that calls out for 'Skip' each time you put it in your player.
Still, Garbage is a band with too much talent to succumb to outside pressure. As much as the music sagged on this release, most of the lyrics are still great. Shirley Manson is still consumed with self-doubt. Her greatest songs are ones where her lyrics reflect an intensely vulnerable side to her while her vocal delivery reflects a cocky arrogance.
The best songs on Beautifulgarbage are the ones where it seems that the band ignores the pressure to create a hit single and deconstruct the traditional pop song formula. "Til The Day I Die" features one of Steve Marker's patented loops that get cut, shredded, diced and reprocessed into a killer riff. And "So Like a Rose" is arguably the most heartbreaking song Garbage has ever written.
So, in essence, this sounds like an album that was destined to be an album released before a greatest hits package came out: an album that two or three songs could fit alongside their staples, such as "Special" and "Only Happy When It Rains." Beautifulgarbage was Garbage's poorest-selling album to date, proving that aiming for commercial gain at the expense of what made you unique in the first place, may not be that great of a payoff (pay attention, Liz Phair).
Still, there may be a great payoff for Garbage yet. It seems that the spotlight is no longer on the band. This leaves the band with two choices: either retire and blame fickle audiences for doing the band in, or take advantage of the low priority and release an album that the band wants to release, without the pressure from record execs. Here's hoping that they choose the latter.