Considering they were conceived as a collective making remixes for other artists, electro-alt-rock legends Garbage have had an incredible career, far outstripping their humble studio beginnings.
Set up by Smart Studio co-founders Butch Vig and Steve Marker, with Vig's former Spooner bandmate Duke Erickson, it’s fair to say that had the trio not recruited enigmatic, Edinburgh-born vocalist Shirley Manson to the band in 1994 then we surely wouldn’t be talking about them today. Adding Manson’s sultry but threatening drawl to their electronic rock turned them into one of the most successful artists of the '90’s and beyond, with festival headline performances, a number one album in the UK and a Bond theme on their CV.
Here we rank their seven albums from worst to best.
7. Not Your Kind of People (2012)
Garbage have never released a bad album, in fact they’ve only ever released one that you could describe as a bit average, and that is 2012’s Not Your Kind of People, their fifth collection. After a seven-year absence without any new music it felt as though the band were trying to do everything at once, and ever so slightly missing the mark of their usual standards with the majority of it.
The title track should be soaring and lush but is just a bit ploddy, Big Bright World has an electro throb that aims for frantic but ends up utterly unmemorable and Blood for Poppies is the clunkiest of funk. It’s not all bad, Control and Battle in Me both recapture old glories, but it’s slim pickings.
Buy Not Your Kind Of People
6. Bleed Like Me (2005)
Coming out in the middle of the indie rock/garage rock revival, it makes sense that Garbage cranked the guitars up for their fourth album.
Bleed Like Me comes roaring out of the traps with some overdriven, sexy, glammy, riff-centric material; opener Bad Boyfriend struts about like robo-riot-grrrl Iggy, Run Baby Run has a killer chorus and some post-punk throb and Why Do You Love Me gave them their biggest UK hit in half a decade, and might have their heaviest ever guitar tone. It does drop off a bit after that though, and some of the songs get a bit forgettable. When it’s good Bleed Like Me is great, but it lacks a bit of consistency.
Buy Bleed Like Me
5. No Gods No Masters (2021)
No Gods No Masters is quite low on the list here, and that’s a shame, as there is much to admire about the group's most recent album. Uncomfortably Me is full of amazingly warm synths that propel the song, Flipping the Bird recaptures their curled lip pop fantastically with added New Order inspired bass, there’s some excellent industrial rock club beats on Godhead and opener The Men Who Rule the World sits right between the best of Nine Inch Nails and Kylie Minogue... no, really.
Ultimately, the album sits so low down on the list purely because it doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t heard from Garbage before. Worth investigating all the same.
4. Beautiful Garbage (2003)
Opinions on Beautiful Garbage were divided. Some felt that the band had gone too far into pure pop and electronic territories at the expense of their rock roots, others rather enjoyed the band leaning in on the success of 1999’s swooping Bond theme The World Is Not Enough. 20 years down the line, the latter opinion now seems like the correct one, because, yes, Beautiful Garbage is comfortably their most commercial album, but it also has some undeniably fantastic songs on it.
The singles - Androgyny, Cherry Lips, Breaking the Girl and Shut Your Mouth - are strong, closer So Like a Rose is a gorgeous dreamy shoegaze ballad and the Dusty Springfield chamber pop of Can’t Cry These Tears is as strong as any song in their entire discography. Different, but great all the same.
3, Strange Little Birds (2016)
Strange Little Birds remains the lowest charting effort of Garbage’s entire career in the UK, a scandalous fact when you consider it is their most challenging, interesting and expertly realised album of the 21st century, and arguably the darkest, most brooding and thematically savage album of their entire career.
Opener Sometimes is one of the most unsettling songs the band have ever written, all stabbing, pounding synths and Shirley sounding simultaneously furious and heartbroken. From there on in she channels Patti Smith on Empty, her bandmates do the same with The Cure on Blackout, while the deep, sorrowful Even Though Our Love Is Doomed feels like Trent Reznor and Tori Amos butting heads. Basically, we're saying that it’s absurdly underrated and deserves more love and affection that it currently receives.
2. Version 2.0 (1998)
Following up on one of the mid-90’s most successful debut albums was always going to be quite a task, but Version 2.0 built upon the band’s self-titled effort, leading to them topping the bill at the Reading Festival in 1998 and scoring the quartet their only number one UK album in the process.
The approach here was simple: give people more of the same, but tidy it up a little bit. Version 2.0 still has plenty of sexy, electro rock, but it’s just that bit cleaner and more palatable than the gruffness of their debut. Still, the songs are the key, and Garbage’s second album is chocked full of anthems: I Think I’m Paranoid, Special, When I Grow Up and Push It all climbed high in the UK singles chart - three of them denting the Top 10 - and all are considered essential songs in their catalogue today. Chuck in the less celebrated likes of Temptation Waits, Dumb and Sleep Together and you’ve got an album that succeeds on every level.
1. Garbage (1995)
Many artists that have released their finest work on their first record become totally defined by that moment, but, as this list proves, Garbage aren’t one of them. Saying that though, they deserve enormous credit for managing to escape from the shadow of a debut album that still sounds like a greatest hits set decades after its release.
No one quite sounded like Garbage when they emerged with this album in 1995. Taking Portishead and Massive Attack and combining it with Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins still sounds like a great elevator pitch for a band, and they never got that mix quite so perfect as they do here. Queer is terrifyingly seductive, Stupid Girl is dance pop with the sharpest of fangs, I’m Only Happy When it Rains sounds like the alt-rock generation taking a baseball bat to a glitterball and Vow seethes with restraint before exploding.
But it’s the songs you’ve possibly forgotten about that cement Garbage’s position at the top of this list: Supervixen's quiet-loud-stop-start dynamics are incredible, Not My Idea chops and swings playfully, Fix Me Now takes the zeitgeist sound of BritPop and makes it sound dangerous, and As Heaven is Wide pulses with urgency.
Garbage is one of the best debuts of the '90s, and, although they came close, they never bettered it.