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.