A Personal History of Music, Day 9: “Big Bright World” by Garbage

John Scalzi

Some bands and musicians you have to grow into, and/or have deep introspective thoughts about, and some you get right from the word “go,” no additional thinking required. For me Garbage is in the second category. I first heard them with the single “Queer,” and two things were immediately clear: The band had perfected a post-grunge pop sound that hit my personal musical pleasure centers (it didn’t hurt that three-quarters of the band had been record producers prior to the band’s formation), and Shirley Manson was a star, the sort of front person who projects effortless cool.

Was Manson actually that cool? Well, no, probably not, who possibly could be? Rock stars are human, actually, which is a good thing to remember from time to time. And also, neither I nor anyone else need her to actually be cool in her day-to-day life, to which we have no access, nor should we. Just the four minutes of any particular song will be enough, thanks.

There are any number of Garbage songs that have Manson blasting her coolness out of a squalling wall of sound; the one that sticks best for me is “Big Bright World,” from 2012’s Not Your Kind of People. The lyrics are (slightly) more optimistic than your usual Garbage song, with some yearbook-worthy lines peppered in the right places, and the song gets the “we’re playing soft, and then suddenly WE’RE PLAYING LOUD” formula exactly right, slamming into overdrive at 1:05 and never looking back until it’s done and punts you into the world two minutes later. What’s not to like? Nothing, that’s what.

I have nothing particularly deep to say about Garbage, but not everything in this series of essays needs to be deep. Garbage just plain hits the spot for me, and Shirley Manson seems super-cool, and when I hear my favorite songs of theirs, I look a fool trying to air drum and air guitar at the same time. I don’t mind looking like a fool when I do it.

— JS

13 Comments on “A Personal History of Music, Day 9: “Big Bright World” by Garbage”

  1. You should listen to her podcast The Jump. She just adores music and listens to many genres. And the way that she vibes with the artists she interviews is a delight. Most importantly, she is a total music nerd with the one of the greatest laughs I have ever heard, which makes her super cool.

  2. I just saw Garbage in concert over Memorial Day. (They were touring with Tears for Fears.) I wondered when we decided to attend if Shirley would still be as cool and IDGAF as she’d always been.

    She is. She is a level of cool I can only hope to aspire to. (And her voice is still as good as ever.)

  3. I adored her in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” back in 2009-ish.

    She absolutely is supercool!

  4. I think you have it about right, and thanks for the new(to me) song. I listened intently to the first two albums but circumstances kept me from knowing about/hearing anything after.

    Until now!

    After having heard her in interviews and advocacy discussions I think I can state she’s pretty damn cool, well spoken and honest.

  5. Nice! My first introduction to Garbage was Cup of Coffee from the Beautiful Garbage album. It’s still one of my favorite songs over all.

  6. Crush was always my favorite. First heard it on Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

  7. Shirley has nice music interviews on the web.

    Speaking of Sarah Connor, there is a Youtube clip of Shirley singing, just as she did in the actual episode, as a VoiceOver as a terminator is chasing Sarah. (For irony or counterpoint or something) She sings Samson and Delilah.

    The constraint of the show, that terminators were to be avoided, not fought, meant lots of tension but less action. Shirley exuded high tension. “You are never safe!”

  8. Ages ago, I wrote a review of the band Angelfish and said they were a good band with decent songs, but the singer was amazing. She went on to join Garbage and everything improved. Still, check out Angelfish if you love Garbage (which you should)

  9. Speaking of musical history, you bear a striking resemblance in your photo to the drummer (recently deceased) of a world famous rock band that inspired the genre of progressive metal. When I saw the photo of you, I did a double-take, thinking this was a post about — Neil Peart!

  10. Well, I must assume that since many people I love and adore are on this short list, the folks I’m not familiar with yet are folks I should make it a point to look up. So I’ll do that at some point soon.

  11. My introduction to Garbage was their collaberation with the Screaming Females doing Because the Night, it is available on YouTube. Very worth checking out

  12. Shirley Manson IS very cool and most of us will never get to know her. But she was very approachable and funny in her appearances on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

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