Garbage – Absolute Garbage

Garbage had the good fortune, or luck, of landing in that post-Cobain gray area where no one was quite sure what “alternative” meant anymore. Along with a handful of esoteric company, including Beck and Smashing Pumpkins (whose Siamese Dream album Garbage drummer/producer/svengali Butch Vig produced, in addition to Nirvana’s Nevermind), Garbage helped bridge the gap in the second half of the 1990s between the waning flannel days of grunge and the neuron-numbing rise of nu-metal. One would think that compiling a Best Of collection of one of ’90s alternative’s bellwether groups would be easier than one for, say, Norman Greenbaum or Ugly Kid Joe, but while Absolute Garbage does hit on the obvious high points, those rascally minor quibbles do tend to crop up more than they should. 

With groups who have enough well known hits to fill out a true Greatest Hits compilation (a phenomenon becoming increasingly rare by the minute), the self-imposed rules for what is included are usually pre-determined. The standard angle that is traditionally explored is a group’s chart entries. Of course, in the most worthwhile cases, this is only possible primarily with major label groups who can funnel their singles directly into the mainstream without much resistance. Garbage had the exposure and the touring pull of a major group, but their singles were largely relegated to the alternative realm in America rather than the pop charts. “Stupid Girl”, their highest charting pop single in the U.S., peaked at only #24. By comparison, their major charting activity came elsewhere, especially in Australia and the U.K., where their singles landed in the pop charts with much greater frequency. 

Taken strictly as a collection of radio hits, Absolute Garbage doesn’t commit any major crimes for the uninitiated (to whom the single-disc Standard Edition is presumably targeted), but when it begins to change the rules in the middle of the game, you start to wonder how they thought their choices improved on conventional wisdom. 

The first disc of the Deluxe Edition collects the band’s singles in chronological order, with five tracks each from both their self-titled debut and Version 2.0, almost all essential, and a pair of non-album charters, “#1 Crush” from the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack, and their Bond theme, “The World Is Not Enough.” Once you get past the band’s heyday, the set’s momentum begins to flag, and the exclusions after this point don’t help at all either. 

“Androgyny” and “Breaking Up the Girl”, off of their third record beautifulgarbage, were non-factors on the U.S. charts, but did make a dent overseas after the turn of the millennium. Unfortunately, they both get left off here. In their place we get the disposable new track “Tell Me Where It Hurts” and an extra-disposable remix of “It’s All Over But the Crying”, which for some reason isn’t included on the second disc, which is dedicated entirely to…  remixes. You do get two tracks from beautifulgarbage, “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)” and “Shut Your Mouth”, as well as a pair from their most recent LP Bleed Like Me, which while necessary for the requisite “”complete snapshot” of their career, feel foreign to Garbage’s established sound, with their colorless, Dave Grohl-stoked hard rock bent. 

The second disc is even more baffling, less for its content than its mere presence. It does feature an impressive cast of remixers, including U.N.K.L.E., Massive Attack, Timo Maas, and Crystal Method. But dedicating an entire extra disc to reworkings more intended to emphasize the deconstruction of the material diminishes the work of the original performer, especially on a group’s Best Of compilation. This would be less of an issue on a random 7 or 12-inch built upon a catchy, obscure sample, but Garbage was always a rock band first, writing conventional pop-based songs, even if they were often danceable. The grooves and electronics on Garbage’s first three albums were no mystery to anyone who lent them even the slightest critical ear; having that fact flanged into your skull for the length of a whole disc is just too much to ask for even the hardest of hardcore fans.  

With only four albums and a handful of non-album tracks to nick from, Absolute Garbage (the Deluxe Edition in particular) as it is feels either indulgent, poorly conceived, or just plain gratuitous. The group’s future is up in the air, but at this point it would still seem too early to try and capitalize on a wave of nostalgia. With a DVD of the group’s music videos being released as a separate item, one wonders why the inferior remix concept wasn’t ditched in favor of a Deluxe Edition with the videos on a second disc. True, all of Shirley Manson and company’s best moments, “Only Happy When It Rains”, “Stupid Girl”, “Push It”, they’re all here, next to their other major singles. Only when the second-tier tracks begin to not show up does the listener wonder if just picking up secondhand copies of the albums might be a more prudent idea.

(Geffen Records)

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