They arrived, in 1995, like a dark comet over Smallville. With American rock settled into a morass of faceless and formulaic grunge, the opening chords of Supervixen – the first track on Garbage’s self-titled debut album – sounded like the crust cracking on some titanium module sent to Earth from an orbiting mothership. The band that emerged seemed equally alien; a menacing melange of producer/musicians (guitarists Steve Marker and Duke Erikson, and grunge godfather Butch Vig on drums) fronted by the unearthly supervixen herself, Shirley Manson.
Garbage have reunited with fellow pioneers Blondie for The Against The Odds tour. Starting in Liverpool on November 6, 2021, the tour runs through to November 21, with a closing date at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. The two bands previously toured together in 2017.
For full list of dates and tickets, visit the AEG website (opens in new tab).
Today, as they announce the pandemic-defying Against All Odds tour of 2021 with Blondie, Garbage are lauded as inspirational sci-fi rock pioneers and Manson one of music’s most revered fem-rock icons. But back in ’95 they seemed to have no biological match on this planet. Lashing the corroded industrial grinds of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry to the noir glamour of Curve and Siouxsie Sioux, and the gleaming pop melodies the occasionally rose to the surface of grunge – particularly at the hands of Nevermind producer Vig – they were the perfect tech-rock super-species.
And as tracks such as Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains began to sprout mind-bending sonics as akin to shoegaze enigmas My Bloody Valentine as electronic and trip-hop subversives like Leftfield or Tricky, they had clearly come to conquer. Their stated mission: “to take pop music and make it as horrible sounding as we can.”
In the twenty-five years since, as with all giant leaps of technological inspiration, the world has been scrabbling to catch up. Before 1998’s second album Version 2.0 hit Number One in the UK, boasting Top Ten hits Push It and I Think I’m Paranoid, David Bowie had released Earthling – a record with very much the same ambition to merge cutting edge electronica and seductive millennial rock – and Garbage acolytes like Republica were firing laser beam electro rock into the charts.
In recent decades, Garbage’s melodic future trash sound and aesthetic has become a blueprint for modern acts trying to find their place amongst the codes and algorithms of the streaming age. From La Roux’s neon cyber-pop to the synthetic epics of new albums by Sufjan Stevens, Perfume Genius or Smashing Pumpkins, the ideas at the root of Garbage’s early work are only now being fully explored, like some ruined spacecraft full of dark corners and scuttling sonic xenomorphs.
In the meantime, Garbage themselves have kept innovating. By 2001’s Beautiful Garbage they were incorporating the sort of hip-hop, leftfield pop and Latin R&B elements that the mainstream would soon be taking to heart, and proving themselves trans allies on Androgyny years ahead of the curve (“Boys in the girls’ room/Girls in the mens’ room/You free your mind in your androgyny”). The grimy guitars 2005’s Bleed Like Me dovetailed smartly with the garage rock revivals taking over New York, Sydney and Detroit, but with a bright metallic edge and more political fire.
Subsequent years of internal strife – the band took a seven-year hiatus before 2012’s back-to-basics Not Your Kind Of People – haven’t quenched their questing spirit. Their most recent album, the dark and cinematic Strange Little Birds from 2016, took an askance view of pop music in the era of constant upbeat online engagement, trying to peel away the façade of Instagram idealism to expose the emptiness it hides.
“I feel like the musical landscape of late has been incredibly happy and shiny and poppy,” Manson said. “Everybody’s fronting all the time, dancing as fast as they can, smiling as hard as they can, working on their brand. Nobody ever says, ‘Actually, I’m lost and I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing with the rest of my life and I'm frightened’.”
Way back in 1995, Garbage were the sound of 2020. In 2020 they’re the true face of isolated and uncertain times. And, as we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, they’ll be right there to show us what the new normal will look and sound like.
Their tour with Blondie – another band unafraid to explore the breadth of musical styles in the pursuit of alt-rock brilliance – promises to both remind us of the wide-open possibilities that alternative music offers and set a standard for the unshackled ‘20s to rise to.
As rock finally catches up with them, expect Garbage to stay one step ahead.
Garbage and Blondie's Against The Odds tour starts on November 6, 2021. For full list of dates and tickets, visit the AEG website (opens in new tab).