Music evokes memory. A certain song or type of music can teleport a listener through space and time. It’s essentially an audio TARDIS for your mind. My experience in falling in love with the rock band Garbage however is one that’ll make even the most passive alternative rock fans shake their heads.
Flashback to a young teenage version of myself in the summer of 1999. My parents had just taken me with them to some type of summer festival and I’m wandering around by myself with my Walkman and a set of headphones listening to my brand new copy of Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 2, the second volume of a CD series collecting that year’s current crop of chart-toppers. Horrifying sidenote for anyone who has ever owned a Now compilation in their youth: This past April, they just released their 58th volume in the United States. This second volume however featured seminal classics from the likes of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys (prior to losing a member of the group), the Spice Girls (after losing a member of the group), Everclear, Sublime, and a bunch of others. The most hilarious throwback is the closing track which is a little something called “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” which originated as a 1997 essay in the Chicago Tribune but was transformed into a spoken word anthem that summer by the same guy that directed Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! Total classic.
There were a few gems on this Now compilation though. The New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” and Semisonic’s “Closing Time” are still among my favorite overplayed songs from that time period and I’ll never have anything but love and respect for the likes of Sheryl Crow and U2. But this CD had one track that I wound up setting on replay time and time again and that was “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage. The sound of that song just made me feel awesome. I was only roughly 14 or 15 at the time, but Garbage has a way with rock music that just makes you feel like a badass, no matter who you are. As a kid that dealt with a lot of anxiety and paranoia (and still sometimes do), it’s pretty obvious to see why I might relate to the song on a personal level, too. It wasn’t long after that I started taking notice and seeing their music videos crop up on MTV and VH1, too. “Special,” in particular, became the theme for anyone who ever did me wrong while “Only Happy When It Rains” was reserved for when I was depressed. Garbage impressed even further when they were commissioned to do a James Bond theme with “The World is Not Enough.” And I don’t think anyone is more excited by the announcement that their newest album, Strange Little Birds, will be released on June 10th. It’ll be their first new album since 2012 and the timing couldn’t be better. Garbage was an iconic alt rock presence during the mid- to late-’90s and it only seems appropriate that now, when our society is riding the nostalgia bus through the ’90s, they’re staging a comeback and don’t exactly seem to slowing.
Upon first viewing and listening to “Empty” (the first single from the new album, featured above), it’s made clear that Shirley Manson still has it and has shown zero age or fatigue. Furthermore, unlike some of their contemporaries that they shared the airwaves with back in the day, they aren’t banking on a reinvigorating respite to India or looking to their newfound relationships with their significant others to fuel their creative process and ultimately start changing their tune. They have managed to keep their identity and still sound like the band I fell in love with during the summer of ’99 and that’s an important feat to accomplish for many musicians that have been around for as long as they have. It sounds as though the band is still dealing with their own pain and trauma and they’re still looking within when they dive into their songwriting. They’re still making it personal rather than making it about what other people want to hear from them. Strip away the grunge-y alt or glam rock facade, and I think this is ultimately what makes Garbage’s sound so personal and relatable to my generation and why Shirley has managed to inspire so many great lady rockers in the past few decades.
And if you’ve never been into Garbage or know much about them, now is the perfect time to get to know them. Dive into their discography, pick up some of their records, watch the videos on YouTube. You only have so much time until Strange Little Birds comes out and we’re all in a Garbage-induced frenzy.
You have been warned.