With so many enterprising bands cashing in on
the styles and sounds of "the 1980's"
(a mythical new decade that bears little resemblance to those 10 years between 1979 and 1990),
it makes sense that an enterprising band has found a way to cash in on the 1990's. And perhaps
it's only fair that the band is Garbage, the unabashedly professional alt-rock act that released its
self-titled first album in 1995.
The group's fourth album, "Bleed Like Me" (Geffen),
makes an impressive debut at No. 4 on this
week's Billboard charts. And on Tuesday night the band celebrated with a packed concert at Hammerstein Ballroom.
Of all the bands that prospered during that alt-rock
heyday, perhaps none was colder than Garbage.
The band is led by a well-connected industry pro (the producer-drummer Butch Vig), fueled by a
snarling but precise guitar sound and fronted by a Scottish singer, Shirley Manson, who seems icy
and tough even (or especially) when crawling on all fours or lying flat on her back - two things she did
during her appealingly feline performance on Tuesday.
Back in the 90's, when moody irony was all the
rage, Garbage seemed to epitomize an era.
Even the band's name meant the opposite of what it said, and the band's biggest hit celebrated
incongruity. In "Only Happy When It Rains," Ms. Manson sang, "I feel happy when things are
going wrong," adding a beseeching refrain: "Pour your misery down on me." Ah, the 90's, a decade
when a singer could order a mug (or is that a bath?) of misery without cracking a smile.
Garbage's coldness and obsession with contradiction
have aged less well than Ms. Manson herself.
When it came time for the title track from "Bleed Like Me," the band traced out a subdued chord
progression (a welcome change of pace), but the lyrics were pure caricature: five stanzas about an
anorexic, a cross-dresser, a self-mutilator, a former drug addict and a karaoke barfly, respectively;
it sounds like the treatment for the world's worst indie film.
Near the end of the concert, the band played its
current single, "Why Do You Love Me?," a loud,
sketchy song that has some nice little details (including a lurching hard-rock riff that disappears as
suddenly as it appears), plus a contrarian refrain ("Why do you love me/Why do you love me/
Why do you love me/It's driving me crazy"). And fans could imagine themselves back in an
alt-rock world where that was all you needed.
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