raises questions at every turn.
Garbage's songs have always been referential, quoting stray lyrics and setting off every listener's name-that-tune reflex. The band's drummer and founder, Butch Vig, became a platinum producer by polishing the pop instincts within Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, and Garbage have made cunning use of his knowledge of the Beatles and girl groups. Yet Garbage used to limit themselves to one, occasionally two, styles per song, and they had a core of Americanized goth rock, learned from latter-day Siouxsie and the Banshees and Garbage's most direct (and underappreciated) source, the English band Curve.
But with Beautiful Garbage, the band goes flipping through the pop and rock lexicon, folding together sincere tributes and retro ironies like an origami master. From the Mazzy Star torpor of "So Like a Rose" to the Smashing Pumpkins surge of "Parade," from the Pretenders-with-a-turntable stomp of "Till the Day I Die" to the Portishead-like orchestral samples and echoey guitar (and title) of "Nobody Loves You," Garbage skillfully assume other styles like a band with a raging identity crisis.
Maybe there's a trauma behind the crisis. Manson has her old belligerence in the pains-of-fame rant "Shut Your Mouth," but elsewhere her chronic smirk disappears. Now it sounds like breaking up actually hurts: in the vulnerable waltz "Drive You Home," in the tinkling ballad "Cup of Coffee," even in "Can't Cry These Tears" amid mocking girl-group chimes. "Silence Is Golden" is the interior monologue of a victim of sexual abuse; Manson blurts, "Something was stolen, I have been broken," with the rawness of PJ Harvey. Trying to drop their old mask, Garbage haven't found a new face of their own yet, but they definitely know where to look.
(October 2, 2001)