Squeezed from the piss-and-vinegar concoction that is Shirley Manson and Butch Vig, Garbage has more bouts of trash-talking, fits of pique and snotty stand-offs in an average week than most bands could endure over the course of their existence. Odd, then, that these pop-rock existentialists have lasted seven years and counting.

Vocalist Manson is a sensual Scot, while keyboard whiz and loopmeister Vig is a perfectionist whose studio work is almost as tight as the skin stretched around Cher's eyes and mouth. Just as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards love to hate each other (or is it that they hate to love each other?), Garbage is a great band because of the tension within.

Certainly there's no sign of mellowing on the group's most recent release, beautifulgarbage. On this outing, the band takes its music in as many different directions as Manson's hairstyle. Everything from Phil Spector-esque girl-group romps and cheesy, Duran Duran, Bond-film synth sounds to hip-hop thump gets tossed into the Garbage compactor. But it's not like the band is trying to crash the urban charts and get video play on BET; Garbage merely makes a point of acknowledging what's going on in the world.

It's all held together by a foundation of the same familiar raunchy guitar riffs that have unified the group's sound since the days when "Only Happy When It Rains" ruled the airwaves in 1996. Manson hasn't altered her trademark vocal riffs, and she still speaks her mind, throwing a body shot at the Barbies of the pop world with the line "Oh, let's bomb the factory that makes the wannabes / Let's burst all the bubbles that brainwash the masses."

Many critics, in their massive, unanimous praise for this record, may have let their lust for Manson get in the way of their judgment by pronouncing over and over that her lyrics show a new "vulnerability." If Manson could address that notion, she'd probably just say they were a bunch of tossers. After all, that vulnerability has been squarely on the tip of her tongue since day one. Sure, she likes to talk tough -- she told this writer on the eve of the band's Houston debut at Numbers in 1996 that she won't jump into a mosh pit "just so some wanker can have the satisfaction of sticking his finger up my ass." But she has also always presented a self-deprecating vision in her songs. Even way back when, she was eager to let the world know she could be a stupid girl.

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr