Review Summary: A well-defined alternative pop rock record.
Garbage may be an intriguing blend of all the "alternative" fads at the time, but its body essentially remains post-grunge. From Butch Vig's slick drumming to the wall-of-sound guitar noise and feedback, their debut remains one of the best albums of the first wave of post-grunge, not to mention the best album of the 90s. Because of its pop crossover appeal, many of the songs, like "Queer" or "Only Happy When It Rains," are bound to get stuck in people's heads after continued exposure. That's not to say that some of them will make people go, "Oh, so that's the title of that song. It sounded familiar." However, despite a few forgettable tracks upon first listen, the record mostly plays to its strengths by showcasing a blend of industrial, trip-hop, and post-grunge that few other bands could execute so well, and with such a strict emphasis on songwriting as well.
"Supervixen" really kicks off the album's momentum by hitting you with that opening drum fill, akin to MBV's "Only Shallow." The guitars in this song are noisy as hell and consist of distorted blares of feedback as well as those occasional stop-and-start pauses. This song just screams out "grunge" with its quiet verses and crushingly loud chorus. And to put the cherry on top is that phrase, "Bow down to me," repeated in Shirley Manson's seductive voice. While "Supervixen" was pure industrial grunge, "Queer" proves to be a more trip-hop inflected track, primarily because of the drums. Even adding a weary clarinet before the chorus, this song is indeed "the queerest of the queer." It's a bit quiet, and definitely has some dark cabaret vibes to it, but it sticks out, just like "Supervixen," only in a different way.
"Only Happy When It Rains" is a bit more uptempo, and also features more tongue-in-cheek lyrics. All of the instruments work pretty well here. Guitars, drums, and even some arpeggiators weave their way through this tapestry of a track. However, once that fades out, it's another trip down to hell with the ironically titled "As Heaven is Wide." The longest song on the album, "Heaven" features some of the most visceral lyrics that this album has to offer. "If flesh could crawl/My skin would fall/Right off my bones/And run away from here" Manson snarls. It is also a preview of what they would delve into on Version 2.0, as it features a rushing techno rhythm and dark, cyberpunk guitar melodies. This would be an appropriate "running playlist" song-- at least, in a nightmare, because this song is wicked! At the end of the song, there's a brief whir of noise, followed by a breathy "1-2-3" that leads into another standout track, "Not My Idea," dancing a thin line between distorted angst refrains and jangly verses accented with cheerful "do do do's." The melodies are some of the best that this record has to offer, and the singing on here is bound to get stuck in your head. Again, a very pretty post-grunge song. "A Stroke of Luck" is like "Queer" in that it has a trip-hop beat, but it has more of a creepy atmosphere to it, probably because of those eerie keyboard melodies. A bit forgettable upon first listen, but it will eventually catch on.
The first single off the album, "Vow," begins the second half of the record with layers of echoed guitars before branching out into industrial territory. As usual, the guitars are loud, there are lots of interesting noises, and the drums are compressed, but "Vow" stands out because the melodies in the chorus are irresistibly catchy. Then there's "Stupid Girl," a staple of Garbage's discography that remains to this day. It utilizes drum samples, lush guitar, a cool bass line, and all sorts of bizarre noises, one of which sounds like an underwater sonar, to create a truly unique song. This song may not sound as dark as "Vow" or "As Heaven is Wide," but it still a magnificent piece, if not a little more subtle than the rest.
The final fourth of the album doesn't have any singles, aside from "Milk," but it does have some noteworthy tracks. "Dog New Tricks" amps up the heaviness a bit, sounding more sinister than ever. It's another highlight of this delightfully trashy album. "My Lover's Box" is a rather sultry song that for some reason ends with a cacophony of phased and incredibly loud noises, and is yet another song with "do do do's." It's not the strongest track on the album, but at least it keeps the momentum going until that broken percussion loop happens at the beginning of "Fix Me Now." The song itself is in fair condition, but the loop in the intro really throws you off. They could have done some more with that sort-of-breakbeat percussion, but instead they just throw it out the window for four whole minutes. Closing off the album on a strange, yet longing note is "Milk." Easily one of the least grungy tunes on here, "Milk" eschews guitars for more synthesizers and other effects while still sounding like Garbage. And what better way to close off an album chock full of guitars with a trip hop ballad?
For an album that is nearly 25 years old, Garbage still holds up as a well-defined alternative pop rock record. Post-grunge may no longer be in fashion, but with the amount of genre-balancing that Garbage is able to do without toppling over combined with a sheer knack for writing catchy "ear candy" melodies, it very well might have been released today.
"Not My Idea"
"Vow" (BEST TRACK)
"Dog New Tricks"
Overall Rating: 4.5/5