Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 7, 2007)
Some bands don’t receive the recognition they deserve, and I’d lump Garbage into that category. Oh, it’s not like they toiled in obscurity, as they scored a few hits and a moderate amount of attention over their decade or so together. However, I couldn’t help but think that they should’ve been a much bigger success, as they had so much good material and boasted such a strong lead performer via singer Shirley Manson.
As of summer 2007, Garbage look to be kaput as a working unit. They might come back, but signs don’t seem positive in that regard. We can examine their time together via Absolute Garbage, a compilation of music videos.
Absolute covers the band’s four albums as well as one special single. From 1995’s debut Garbage, we get “Vow”, “Queer”, “Only Happy When It Rains”, “Stupid Girl” and “Milk”. 1998’s Version 2.0 brings us “Push It”, “I Think I’m Paranoid”, “Special”, “When I Grow Up” and “You Look So Fine”, while 2001’s Beautiful Garbage offers “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)” and “Shut Your Mouth”. From 2005’s Bleed Like Me, we locate “Why Do You Love Me” and the title song. Finally, “The World Is Not Enough” comes from the 1999 Bond flick of that title.
I’ll run through the 16 videos and offer my reactions for them in the order they appear. I’ll give each video a number rating on the usual 1-10 scale. The package presents the videos in a clear chronological order, from first single to last.
Vow: For the band’s first video, we get a simple but stylish affair. Technically, I’d call this a basic lip-synch clip since if focuses on the band as they perform. It sticks them in a large golden-brown room populated with lots of TV monitors and some dancing, painted bald dude who reminds me of a trippy Michael Stipe.
I could live without that guy’s presence, but the rest of the video works well. Shirley shows her stage presence from second one, and the simple format seems just fine for this great song. Lose Baldie and this would be a better video, but it remains very good. 7/10.
Queer: A stark black and white piece, this one follows Shirley and the guys – though mostly Shirley – as she wanders the streets and sees a few weirdos along the way. Yeah, that makes it sound like it telegraphs the song’s title/lyrics, but it doesn’t really. It offers a creepy vibe that suits the tune, and Shirley mesmerizes as usual. 8/10.
Only Happy When It Rains: Most important thing to note: the video shows no rain. Thank God for that! (Though some falling glitter at the end comes perilously close to the predictable use of precipitation.) Instead, it uses some garish overblown colors as it mostly shows the band indoors. They lip-synch, drill a guitar, and meet some costumed weirdos outside the studio. Does it make a lick of sense? No, and it’s not as interesting as “Queer”. Nonetheless, it’s reasonably evocative. 7/10.
Stupid Girl: Yeah, this one’s a lip-synch in the studio clip dressed up in artsy clothing. Nonetheless, it’s pretty good. It focuses on stylized colors and often degrades the footage to look like old film. Shirley makes it work, though. Y’know, they could shoot her as she files her nails and I’d still give it a good rating. 8/10.
Milk: The calmest song to date gets the most sedate video. Don’t be fooled by its languid exterior, though, as it creates a powerful little punch to accompany the lyrics of painful love. The video artfully pans around to various band members with stylized colors and surprisingly effective use of blurred focus. It’s unusual and quite good. 9/10.
Push It: And now for something completely… something. Arguably the weirdest video in Garbage’s canon – or maybe anybody’s – I won’t even attempt to make sense of “Push It”. It throws all sorts of oddness at us, from bandit nuns to a guy with a lightbulb for a head to a character who looks like he escaped from a-ha’s “Take On Me” video. I may not know what it means, but it creeps the hell out of me. In this case, that’s a good thing. 9/10.
I Think I’m Paranoid: After the overstimulation of “Push It”, matters simplify for the black and white “Paranoid”. Don’t take that as a bad thing, though; as much as I like “Push It”, another clip that dense would’ve made my head explode. This one mostly sticks with basic lip-synch shots but it uses various visual techniques to hint at the lyrics’ sense of a muddled self. It’s another strong video. 8/10.
Special: Possibly the most elaborate Garbage video, this one actually tries to tell a minor story about a futuristic queen – Shirley, natch – who fights for the freedom of her people from the “evil lords of Garbania” – ie, her bandmates. Ooh, hints of band tension? Probably not, and the clip acts to give us a fun throwback to 1940s sci-fi epics. We get aerial dogfights in this entertaining video. 9/10.
When I Grow Up: After all these creative videos, it comes as a bit of a disappointment to find this pretty basic live clip. (The footage comes from a concert, but we still hear the studio rendition of the song.) It’s perfectly decent, but after so many great videos, “perfectly decent” doesn’t cut it. I also wish they’d just gone with live audio here instead of the studio rendition. The concert footage doesn’t match well with the canned track, and that makes the video look awkward. 5/10.
You Look So Fine: Simple and eerie, this one puts Shirley in an odd supernatural desert setting next to some guy who certainly appears to be dead. The majority of the clip just shows her as she croons the tune to him. That makes it sound dull, but the lush visuals combine with the words and the subtext to create a video with real punch. It’s unsettling but in a quiet, creepy way. 10/10.
The World Is Not Enough: Shirley would make a great Bond villainess and her bitch goddess persona works nicely for this clip, which otherwise would be a standard conglomeration of film shots and lip-synching. The video attempts a Bond-ian storyline, but it's Manson's heat that keeps it together. 9/10.
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go): Essentially a studio lip-synch clip, this one uses bluescreen techniques to give it some pizzazz. It makes Shirley and the guys invisible, a tactic that becomes more titillating when see-through Shirley “strips”. It’s not as good as the two that precede it here, but it’s entertaining. 7/10.
Shut Your Mouth: This one shows concert footage with some visual distortion. Despite all the various colors and techniques, it remains… a pretty ordinary concert clip. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I hate the short blonde hair Shirley sported in the Beautiful Garbage era. 4/10.
Why Do You Love Me?: I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. At its start, it looks like it’ll be a basic “female loathes herself due to society’s standards” piece, but then it changes. Shirley and the guys set up a stage and play a show. Does any of this make much sense? Not a lot, but I like it anyway. 7/10.
Bleed Like Me: The song is little more than a rewrite of Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side” – albeit a self-knowing one – so I’ve never been nuts about it. However, the video works really well. It places Shirley as a hospital nurse – or is she? The visuals fit the music and lyrics to a very satisfying degree and turn this into a memorable clip. 9/10.
I didn’t say much about the music in my little review bites, so I thought I should throw out a few tune-related comments here. As I mentioned at the start, I love Garbage, and this collection reminds me why. There’s not a dud to be found, though obviously I like some tunes more than others. I can’t claim to be particularly wild about “The World Is Not Enough”, “Bleed Like Me” or “Milk”; they’re fine but not faves. “Cherry Lips” also wouldn’t be one of my choices from Beautiful Garbage.
So what are my top tunes here? Uhh, all of them? Really, I can’t pick from among this crop, as they’re great, great songs across the board. Garbage packed a lot of excellent work into their four albums, and Absolute serves as a terrific overview with nary a flaw to be seen or heard.