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The World Is Not Enough: Garbage turn 20

They had smash hits, a James Bond theme and global fame. But, with the world at their feet, Garbage disintegrated in a maelstrom of paranoia and exhaustion.

As they celebrate their debut’s album’s 20th anniversary, Shirley Manson tells us: “It’s been a mental ride.”

In December 1994, both John Peel and Steve Lamacq began playing a pulsating and vaguely gothic-sounding song titled Vow on their respective Radio 1 shows. Sleek and somewhat sinister, it progressed via a biting guitar line to a propulsive chorus laced with a dose of menace as its female singer threatened to tear an errant lover’s world apart. The work of a mysterious band called Garbage, it staked out a new musical genre: futuristic grunge-pop. 

Vow prompted an initial buzz of interest that turned to a clamour when it became known that Garbage’s drummer was Butch Vig. As producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind and also Gish by the Smashing Pumpkins, Vig had set the template for the dominant alt-rock sound of the 90s. Much less was known about his other two American bandmates and fellow producers – Steve Marker and Duke Erikson – and next to nothing about the band’s Scottish singer, Shirley Manson.

That all changed with the release of Garbage’s self-titled debut album the next summer. Well-crafted but with a dark beating heart, it went on to sell more than four million copies, transforming the band, and especially Manson, into stars. 

Urbane, introverted and frankly middle-aged, Erikson, Marker and also Vig soon took a back seat to their striking, potty-mouthed vocalist. The impulsive, extrovert Manson delighted journalists with such diverting tales as the one in which she settled an argument with her boyfriend by taking a dump on his Cornflakes. She also looked great, and progressed to being a sex symbol, role model and ‘it’ girl, all bundled up into one feisty, flame-haired package. 

A second hit album, Version 2.0, followed in 1998, and for a while Garbage appeared to be blessed. They were feted in the media, headlined the Reading Festival and were invited to record a James Bond film theme. However, their relentless schedule was driving them into the ground, at a point when the music business was going through one of its periodic shifts.

In short order, Garbage were undone by internal tensions, record company politics, divorce, depression, the White Stripes and a catastrophic attack on mainland USA. The combined effects split the band apart and left deep wounds that took years to heal. 

Garbage regrouped in 2010, and right now they are preparing to mark the 20th anniversary of their first album with a deluxe reissue, and an impending tour on which they will play it in its original running order. Vig describes the intervening period as having passed in the blink of an eye; Manson settles for just one word: “Tumultuous”.

Phoning from various ports in the US and Europe, the Garbage men have retained their relaxed, genial air. Sitting in a poky London office on a hot summer’s afternoon, Shirley Manson is also unchanged, save for the fact that her red hair is now dyed electric pink. This is to say she’s sharp, funny, unguarded, saucer-eyed and dressed in various shades of black. She also swears like a docker, and when she laughs, which is often, it arrives as a resounding eruption that sounds delighted and also filthy. “It’s such a cliché,” she allows of Garbage’s story, “but it’s been a mental ride.”

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