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David Stout
audiophile@q-notes.com

Garbage take out the thrash on “Bleed Like Me”

"Bleed Like Me"

Garbage

(Geffen Records)

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On the day Garbage gathered in Madison, Wisc., to start work on their fourth album, they came up with the glittering, steely “Right Between The Eyes” in just 30 minutes. It was the easiest the project would ever get.

The rest of the way, the band — sexy, gothy, Scottish firebrand Shirley Manson backed by Americans Bruce Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson — battled illness, surgery, creative disagreements, major life changes and, depending on who you ask, either a much needed sabbatical or a full-on breakup before finally completing the blistering “Bleed Like Me.”

“To me, personally, the very fact that it got finished is a miracle,” says Manson.

But then, so is the fact that Garbage has been at it for a decade now. The group was originally meant to be a lark, a way for three old friends to take advantage of success and have fun on the other side of the control room.

Vig and Erikson had been the respective drummer and frontman for Midwestern guitar-pop band Spooner and ’80s college radio fave Fire Town. Vig’s college buddy Marker engineered Spooner’s very first recordings on a four-track in his basement. Vig and Marker later co-founded Smart Studios, producing and engineering such seminal post-hardcore bands as Killdozer and Die Kreuzen.

Vig would go on to become the alternative rock producer of the ’90s, overseeing Nirvana’s landscape-shifting “Nevermind” as well as The Smashing Pumpkins’ debut “Gish” and discs by Sonic Youth, L7 and House of Pain among others.

Manson — who began her career playing keyboards in the Scottish combo Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, then fronting her own band Angelfish — acknowledges that Garbage was “just supposed to be a blip in our personal history.”

Yet it’s become much more. The members share a love for experiments and bubblegum, noise and beauty, and throughout 1995’s “Garbage,” 1998’s “Version 2.0” and 2001’s “Beautiful Garbage,” they have melded hard rock sonics with big hooks and Manson’s glam persona and innate Scottish pessimism to create a catalog that’s equal parts bruised and beautiful.

The string of difficulties that impeded the “Bleed” sessions actually stretched back to the release of “Beautiful Garbage” — which streeted the week before 9/11. Suddenly, doing interviews or promo gigs felt inappropriate. Even an American tour opening for U2 turned into a trial midway through when Vig was diagnosed with a serious case of Hepatitis A. The band continued on with replacement drummers, which Vig encouraged, but it only added to the overall ennui.

In addition, Vig married his longtime girlfriend, Marker and his wife had their first child, Erikson married off a daughter and Manson lost her voice — a terrifying ordeal that ultimately resulted in surgery to remove a cyst from her vocal chord.

But, when the time came to create a new album, Garbage dutifully returned to their de facto homebase in Madison. After the effortless creation of “Right Between The Eyes,” however, things just weren’t happening — especially for Vig. A frustrating few weeks later, he retreated to L.A.

“My heart just wasn’t in it,” he says. “It was like, ‘I gotta go.’ If we’re gonna finish this record we gotta take a break and rebuild the creative juices.”

Marker sums up the situation succinctly — and offers a very different perspective. “We broke up.”

“It got pretty dark there, that’s for sure,” recalls Erikson. “All four of us might have been willing to just let it go.” He says the reason is because “no one was agreeing on the direction of the music. At different times, different band members would come up with stuff, but the other three wouldn’t be on board. When you lose that common bond of the music you’ve got nothing.”

A lengthy break gave everyone time to refocus. “What we realized, Marker says, “after we did take five months off to sort of reassess, was we’ve been through all this other bullshit...”

“And we still want to do it,” Manson interjects. “All the bands that came out back when we did are gone, but we’re still standing, wanting to make records, regardless of success or expectations or other outside forces. That’s a really empowering feeling, and I think it helped us make the record that we wanted in the end.”

“Bleed Like Me” (Geffen Records) is available now at traditional and online music retailers.


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