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I donít know whatís worse: the fact Garbage has made one of the most disappointing albums in recent memory, or the fact I am going to have to write a review saying itís one of the most disappointing albums in recent memory. Their self-titled debut rocked this Curve fanís world in high school--a grinding blend of rock with electronic noodling that was just this side of industrial, and not to mention introduced one of the most charismatic front women of her generation, fiery Scot Shirley Manson. Version 2.0, the follow-up, wasnít as engaging as its predecessor, but still featured some ripping piss-and-vinegar tunes in "Push It" and "I Think Iím Paranoid," and proved Mansonís developing chops as a lyricist with introspective fare like "When I Grow Up" and "The Trick Is To Keep Breathing."

Now weíve arrived at beautifulgarbage, and goddamn does it suck. Digesting this album is like ripping open ten packets of Sweet ní Low and pouring them directly down your throat, then chasing it with a bottle of Bubble Gum Jones Soda. Almost three years and we get this?

Album opener "Shut Your Mouth" is the closest youíre going to get to vintage Garbage on this record Ė layered guitars that whine, then groove into a psychedelic stutter, and over it all Mansonís assured, confrontational vocals that still personify the dark side of this bandís unique brand of pop. And make no mistake: Shirley Manson is still one of the coolest women in rock, hands down. But as first single "Androgyny" cues up, you have to wonder when Garbage decided to swap their spine for the polish of ultra-shiny bleeps and doots. Iíve never associated the word "annoying" with this band before, and certainly not Mansonís vocals, but itís the first that springs to mind when the recurring refrain of boys, girls comes on like a naughty Catholic schoolgirl. "And this is a bad thing?", I hear you ask. Well, normally, no, but here it grates, and here is where the real problems of beautifulgarbage begin.

Truth is, the rest of the album grates as well, mostly due to synth effects that manage to distract and cheapen many of the albumís thirteen tracks. Is that a Mellotron on the otherwise lovely "Cup Of Coffee"? "íTil The Day I Die" is loaded with vocal dubs and scratching that reduces the song to nothing but sad parody, and "Untouchable" also suffers from abuse of a synth. "Silence Is Golden" has loads of loud guitars (a novelty on a record that pushes any organic element to the very back of the mix) but suffers from overdramatic vocals and strange pacing, creating a mess of a song--a shame, really, as its theme of abuse is certainly worth hearing. "Breaking Up The Girl" is "Special Part 2", which is what partially redeems it, believe it or not, but whatís with Mansonís penchant for 60s-inspired backing vocals on this record? Sometimes, it adds a refreshing reprieve from the sonic Velveeta being slathered on by Butch Vig (who should know better, donít you think?), as on the gorgeous "Drive You Home", but other times it only serves to weigh these songs down in even more sugary drivel. And trust me, thatís about the last thing this record needs more of.

By far the most offensive song is the cloying, near-unbearable "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)" This song alone personifies everything that is wrong with this record: processed, superficial, obvious, and absolutely no soul. Here the cheesy sound effects are sprinkled liberally, and Mansonís vocals are near cartoonish. There comes a point where you honestly canít believe this is the same woman who sounded as if she just ate some guyís balls for breakfast on "Queer." Why not just eat some cherry lip-gloss? Iím sure it will have roughly the same effect.

Alright, so itís not all bad. "Canít Cry These Tears" gets its Debbie Harry on in a big way, and is an excellent one-off, but is so huge in its nostalgic, girl group-ness, it loses something within the context of the album. In fact, if beautifulgarbage suffers from anything, itís lack of cohesion, as if the band couldnít decide what direction they wanted to commit to. Roughly half of this album is a full-on, synth-driven sugar pop album, while the rest hints at their strength for solid, darker pop, such as the excellent "Parade", perhaps the strongest cut on the record. And lyrically, beautifulgarbage is a bit of a revelation in spots, which is what makes the music itself so infuriating. Mansonís delving deep into personal issues with relationships gone awry, abuse, and even discontent with the trappings of superstardom. With such open bleeding going on lyrically, youíd think restraint would be called for in the tweaking department, but alas.

Does beautifulgarbage hint at a new direction for Garbage? If so, expect a large portion of the bandís fan base to say "Sayonara." The fact of the matter is that we have enough pop princesses cluttering the popular music landscape, and we can scarcely afford to lose Manson in particular amongst the manufactured masses. Hopefully, this is just an unfortunate misstep that can be quickly recovered from. Hopefully.

ó Heather Space

Track Listing:

  1. Shut Your Mouth
  2. Androgyny
  3. Canít Cry These Tears
  4. ĎTil The Day I Die
  5. Cup Of Coffee
  6. Silence Is Golden
  7. Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)
  8. Breaking Up The Girl
  9. Drive You Home
  10. Parade
  11. Nobody Loves You
  12. Untouchable
  13. So Like a Rose

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