Review Summary: An improvement and a retread.
Garbage have a clear formula: mix alt-rock, industrial, electronic music and trip-hop together, with a strong sense of pop songwriting. On their second album, the aptly titled Version 2.0
, they expanded this by generally replacing trip-hop with techno influences. So this album manages the strange feat of being simultaneously an improvement and a retread of Garbage
The album overall
The production of Version 2.0
is a step up from its predecessor, being generally more ambitious and harder, with a small influence from the "wall-of-sound" style. Sadly the ultra-computerized production also brings into sharp relief the fact that this album has the same problems as its predecessor: the songwriting quality varies radically, and by the end most tracks end up sounding the same. And it has a few horribly misguided J-pop oriented tracks, one of which ("When I Grow Up") is the worst Garbage song ever committed to this tape (at the very least). One thing they did (kinda) fix is the lyrics, now more about mental issues than showing off.
begins with an eerie music box motif that I swear could have been sampled from Massive Attack
's "Inertia Creeps" and a generic trip-hop/techno drum loop. The chorus is more melodic than you'd expect, and has the kind of near-bombastic production heard on "The World Is Not Enough" or "Milk". The big surprise here is how the keyboards are the main focus, and the guitars are buried in the mix. The best part in the song is the techno-oriented breakdown at 2:19, with some heavy drums and cacophonous guitars. Lyrically the song is yet more groan-inducing posturing from Shirley Manson, who attempts to convince us all, for the umpteenth time, that she is a "bad girl" or something along those lines. A very average beginning to the album.
I Think I'm Paranoid
is the best Garbage song, ever. It's also a perfect encapsulation of their style: quiet, menacing verses + aggressive refrain + techno breakdown. This might look bland on paper, but sonically it all works. The verses are subtly different from each other (headphones recommended), the massive chorus boasts the most oustanding riff Steve Marker (or Duke Erikson, or whoever) ever wrote, the techno breakdown is expertly handled (thanks to Todd Malcolm Michiles' scratching contributions), and the final "Steal me/Deal me" section is the refrain turned up to 11. The song has a strong addictive quality, the lyrics thankfully aren't grating in the least... what else is there to say? The obvious highlight of the album.
Sadly, the problem with such a great highlight is that any track that comes after it is bound to suffer in quality. When I Grow Up
begins with a simple piano riff and a drum loop, and promptly turns into the Worst. Garbage. Song. On Version 2.0. And a strong candidate for Worst. Garbage. Song. Ever. The track relies on a fast-paced techno beat and distorted guitars, but the main melody employed and the production ruin it. Seriously, this sounds like annoyingly happy J-Pop that could show up in the opening credits of this week's latest high school romance anime. And I dare you not to laugh at the "Happy hours/Golden showers" rhyme. A horrible song on all levels, and an irreversible blow dealt to the momentum, it makes "Shiny Happy People" look like "Fu
ck Da Police". Skipping is urged.
. Why yes, thank you, I need some after the brain-damaging stupidity I just experienced. The song starts with some funereal guitar playing and a somber organ, only to turn into an industrial-oriented track driven by eerie guitar wailing. Sadly, the quality of the lyrics is only a small improvement, and the "Somebody get me out of here/I'm tearing at myself/Nobody gives a damn about me/or anybody else" refrain is jarring to say the least. Regardless of that, it's good enough medication, and Shirley takes the opporunity to show off her higher register. A good track.
. Er, actually, no, this is a retread of "When I Grow Up", and it's just as annoying. While it has a promising beginning with an arpeggiated guitar riff, it pisses it all away by again turning into what sounds like Mika
writing the theme song to Ken Akamatsu's latest bullshi
t anime. It's again propelled by techno beats, it has a faux-upbeat guitar melody, it has some cheesy overdubbed harmonies from Shirley. And that's not even mentioning how the contrast between the lyrics and the music is ridiculous. Imagine if Robert Smith mumbled some of his trademark gloomy lyrics over an upbeat happy techno song. Do not listen except if you need to urgently induce vomiting.
Hammering In My Head
. Why, you're so considerate guys, writing a song about what I felt while listening to tracks 3 and 5... oh, wait, no. The song begins at a frenzied pace with the familliar "Apache" drumbreak and a synth bass, then launches into a dissonant distorted synth melody. As a whole it sounds like very angry Prodigy
. It's undoubtedly a step up from our previous cheesy dud. The lyrics seem to describe Shirley's relationship with a very aggressive boyfriend. The eerie bridge in the middle works very well. Another good track, even if it drags a bit in the end.
is another other big highlight on the album. Opening inauspiciously with a keyboard and a barrage of drum loops, it has a bleak edge from the beginning, only to release the tension with the chorus (which once again employs one of the best Garbage riffs ever written). The interpolation of the Beach Boys
is one of the best ideas the band ever experimented with, providing a counterbalance to the gloomy production. Overall the song's arrangement is very subtle and well-realized, and has probably the best set of lyrics to be found on this album. One of the best, most energetic techno-rock hybrids.
The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
(wow, what a horrible title) slows down the tempo and resurrects the trip-hop influence that was omnipresent on Garbage
. The verses all rely on a jazzy drumbeat and a run-of-the-mill bassline at first, only to bring the atmospheric synths back for the refrain (hey look ma, no guitars!). The string section which shows up later is sonic overkill. Overall, it's a passable track ruined a bit by overproduction.
at first just has a silly, jumpy, jittery synth line with a generic drum beat. After a keyboard is introduced the song grows an ominous edge, and then quickly brings the electric guitars as well. The dissonant riff employed here lingers in the area between ordinary and mediocre. Shirley's lyrics live up to the song's title (samples: "Maybe I could write a letter/to help me with my self-esteem/You should get to know me better", and the horrendous refrain "Now that you know what you know/I bet you wish that it would go/You'll never come sucking your thumb/Better off dumb"). I'm actually starting to miss the showing off... A below average track.
. Oh, damn, shouldn't have said anything. Now I have a sheet which mixes some desperate begging ("If we sleep together/will you like me better? [...] If we sleep together/will I like you better?") and the showing off ("I got you crawling up a mountain/Hanging round my neck/I got you twisted around my finger/Crawling round my legs"). And they don't mix all that well with the creepy arrangement. The song relies on an eerie toy piano motif hidden behind a huge wall of guitars. I don't like one aspect of the production here: the guitars are too polished, robbing the song of the grit it needs in order to be effective. Still, it's a good track, an improvement over its predecessor.
. Oh, no. They actually decided to try writing a song in a 3/4 swing rhythm. Unsurprisingly, the song is a failure. The bass line might be half-catchy, but the gloomy atmospheric industrial production style doesn't fit the song at all (it sounds all oppressively joyless), and the lyrics are horrible, a mixture of insincere masquerading and laughable sarcasm. I'd actually prefer hearing a Garbage cover of "Bad" at this point. Pass.
You Look So Fine
is the last great song on the album, continuing the Garbage tradition of slightly grandiose album closers. It begins with an airy three-note piano motif which will repeat itself throughout the track, and masterfully employs a string section without sounding overblown. The song also benefits from a strong, impressive vocal performance and an excellent everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production. The last hightlight, and a strongly recommended listen.
Overall, the album would've fallen below the threshhold set by its predecessor if it weren't for the three aforementioned highlights. When Version 2.0
works, it works grandly, but it falters just as heavily, mostly on tracks 3 and 5, horrible missteps that cast a bad light on the rest of the album. So, in the end, irrespective of the duds, it is an excellent release and matches up to their previous standard.
: "I Think I'm Paranoid", "Push It", "You Look so Fine",