One of the better known songs by Garbage is The World Is Not Enough. As another Garbage reunion rumbles around the UK an apt question may be: when is success and longevity not quite enough?
Labelled as an alternative rock band the reality has been that Garbage have evolved into more of a pop band over the seventeen years since their eponymous debut. A good part of their latest offering Not Your Kind Of People sounds more Gaga than Garbage.
It isn’t that Not Your Kind Of People is a bad album – far from it. However in spite of the live performance of songs such as Blood For Poppies and Big Bright World being far superior to the recorded versions, it is hard to ignore the fact that they don’t stand up fully to comparison with earlier songs.
It is unreasonable to expect bands to stand still, particularly when their history is chequered with a few disputes, break-ups and reunions. I am a fan of the band but I always feel that they missed a trick somewhere along the line; not quite living up to the impact of their first album that appealed to pop, alternative and rock sensibilities. The single Vow even made John Peel’s Festive Fifty whilst providing mainsteam chart success.
It may seem also a little churlish to pick fault with the latter career of a band that has achieved over 17 million album sales worldwide, but there is no denying that things tend to rack up a few notches both on stage and off during songs like Queer, Stupid Girl and the outstanding Vow.
In fact singer Shirley Manson’s performance on the night seemed to represent a reverse analogy for the band’s career. The first handful of songs were delivered in a manner that was all about image, as if the visual aspect was more important. It was a performance for the photographers down the front as much as it was for the audience. Wearing high heels and enveloped in a diaphanous robe Shirley Manson cut an angular and severe figure, her hair pulled up into an Egyptian-style topknot.
This was about precision and visibility with very little movement away from centre stage, throwing shapes using a wind machine on the clothing to great effect, and staying in the full glare of the lights. It was all high-quality entertaining stuff but somewhat artificial and detached from the audience; not unlike Not Your Kind Of People itself.
All of this was brought to a halt in a slightly comical manner. Throwing off the robe and sitting down on the drum riser Shirley proceeded to pull off the high heels (at one stage getting bass player Dan Shulman to help out) in favour of flat boots. From that moment on the gig really took off. She was all over the stage and in the faces of the crowd being simultaneously sexy, coquettish, almost vampish and yet hard nosed; just like earlier songs by the band.
As the night went on it became more and more about Shirley, her stage presence and interaction with those down at the front. She seemed to pull guitarists Duke Erikson (looking more like a bank manager in his three piece suit these days) and Steve Marker along with her, eventually persuading the crowd to wake up fully during #1 Crush and Cherry Lips.
Although small in frame she filled the stage with personality and activity, at one point racing around the back of drum riser, much to the amusement of Butch Vig, who it was good to see. For most of the time he was cocooned within the plastic shields that surrounded his kit.
Battle In Me and Big Bright World illustrated the dilemma about Garbage in 2012 for me. The first is an archetypal Garbage song, guitar and bass driven with that indie vibe, an outstanding song on the album. Big Bright World could be anybody.
They are such a great live band, and Shirley Manson such a live wire, that the weaker songs were forgiven, but at times even the sympathetic and enthusiatic crowd seemed a bit bemused.
A peculiar encore of the cliche-laden Automatic System Habit and their punt at a ballad, Not Your Kind Of People, was rescued by a fantastic Only Happy When It Rains; as if to drive the point home.
I think I’m Paranoid
Shut Your Mouth
Why Do you Love Me?
Blood For Poppies
The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Battle in Me
Big Bright World
Automatic Systematic Habit
Not Your Kind Of People
Only Happy when it Rains
Review – Ian Gelling
Photos – Steve Gerrard