Continuing our discussion of 90s classic albums, today David Nilsen and I publish our debate over which of Garbage’s first two albums is, in fact, superior.
Katy Goodwin-Bates: I have always thought of Garbage’s first album as an old favourite but, on closer examination, it would appear that this was based on four songs. Four banging songs, obviously, but still, I was surprised by how many of the tracks I listened to again and thought, “I have no recollection of this whatsoever.” Which is weird and, frankly, a bit upsetting.
David Nilsen: My own summary verdict: I adore the first album, while Version 2.0 is not nearly as good as I remember.
KGB: Interesting. I had the exact opposite feeling.
DN: Well, these should prove to be amusing debates then.
KGB: I still think Supervixen is an astounding opening to an album.
DN: Agree. Also—and this is true of the entire album—this is exactly what 1995 sounded like. When that track opens, you know when this album came out even if you’ve never heard it before.
KGB: Absolutely. In the case of the rockier songs here, I think that’s a great thing. It’s all the dancey ones that sound like someone made them on an app where I think that becomes less of a compliment. I love how dirty and menacing Supervixen is. I was obsessed with this song and Vow when I first had this album for those reasons.
The word “scuzzy” has just popped into my head and now I think this is the perfect description for the first album.
DN: When I jotted down notes while listening to this, next to Vow all I wrote was “Don’t piss off Shirley.”
Which I feel is accurate, and true to what you’re saying.
KGB: That song is really bound up in my memory with my angry teenager phase. It was the soundtrack to many a revenge fantasy against a boy who hadn’t actually done anything wrong. Now I just like singing along to it and scaring anyone who stops next to me at traffic lights.
I also still adore Only Happy When It Rains and listen to it at least once a week. It’s so grumpy and yet also witty.
DN: Yes. That is one of my favorite 90s songs.
Want to feel old? Shirley Manson turned 50 last summer.
I mean, that makes Shirley sound kind of old. I feel quite youthful in comparison.
SHIRLEY DON’T HURT ME I AM JOKING
DN: Track 2, Queer, has not aged very well. Musically it’s…whatever…but the daring use of “queer” just comes off awkward and appropriative now.
KGB: Agreed. It’s a weird song. I always thought this. Especially when it goes from “queer” to “lame,” which seems very inappropriate.
DN: Definitely. Unless she was trying to counteract disability-shaming? But I don’t think so, and even if she was, still not appropriate for her to do so that way.
KGB: I am listening to the album now and have reached the throwaway dance songs.
DN: Going back to Only Happy When It Rains, I love the “deep depression” line, because that was so true for me as a teenager. I was in love with my own angst and despair and “woe is me” Romeo & Juliet bullshit. Being depressed made you more interesting.
KGB: Yes! It fits within my whole mentality of reading Wuthering Heights and thinking it was a blueprint for how a relationship should be. Give me angst! Give me drama! Thank god we didn’t have Facebook back then.
DN: Absolutely. Edgar Allen Poe was my spirit animal.
KGB: I feel like we would have got on in the 90s.
DN: And you’re right about Facebook. God. Can you imagine?
Which means our kids are screwed.
KGB: It will have blown over by the time they’re old enough. That’s my dream.
DN: That or the leaders of our two mighty countries will have blown up the entire world.
KGB: You really are only happy when it rains. Seriously, what is with all these rubbish songs? As Heaven is Wide? Not My Idea? That one, in particular, just sounds really childish.
Both of those are very forgettable.
Like, come on Shirls, if it’s not your idea of a good time, come up with a practical solution. Read a book. Practise glaring at people. As my dad liked to say when I was a kid, “only boring people get bored.”
My dad is very profound.
But then we get Vow, and then Stupid Girl.
I just found out Joe Strummer had something to do with that song.
KGB: You’ve just missed A Stroke of Luck, which I am listening to right now and have forgotten already.
Joe Strummer? What? I love him.
Wait, does this song have a good chorus?
Oh. No. It doesn’t. Ignore me.
DN: He apparently co-wrote it or something. Looking it up now.
KGB: I like the opening of Stroke of Luck. The lead in. But the rest is disappointing.
It’s very gloomy. I want rage, not abject misery.
DN: Oh, I was down for abject misery.
KGB: Only if it involves snarling and loud riffs.
Not all this mopey noodling.
DN: We will have to diverge on that.
This entire album sounds like it was used on a soundtrack to all of the darker teen movies of the 90s.
KGB: Actually listening to this song is reminding me of a terrible poem I wrote when I was about 14 which I now think I may have just plagiarised from this chorus.
DN: I am certain these songs were on the Scream, Last Summer, or American Werewolfmovies or something.
I plagiarized my earliest poems in sixth grade from my sister’s diary, which I read while she was away at college.
My Lover’s Box is very good. I dig that song.
KGB: Yes. It is pleasingly riffy. I had forgotten about this one but it definitely gives the back end of the album a lift after Dog New Tricks, which I just do not think is good.
DN: I love Milk too. The album ends on a solid note.
Overall, I have few complaints about this album. For a first record, this is solid. It is very much of its era, which means parts of it are awesome and some parts haven’t aged well. But this is my favorite of theirs.
KGB: I think Supervixen, Only Happy, Vow, and Stupid Girl are cracking, and still sound as appealing to me as they did when I was a moody teenager. There’s just too much filler in between and too much of it has an annoying computer-programmed beat behind it. It frustrates me that all the songs aren’t as good as Vow. Obviously not all songs can be as good as Vow. That would be an overwhelming world to live in.
DN: But you don’t feel that way about Version 2.0? Because that computer programmed, awkward early techno dance shit is all over that album.
KGB: What’s weird about this is that I don’t mind it on 2.0, which obviously makes no sense. I think I’d dismissed the album and then, returning to it last week, it was like seeing someone I used to know who I thought was really annoying but was actually surprisingly cool.
DN: 2.0 almost sounds more 1998 than the self-titled sounds 1995. And 1998 was not the best year for popular music.
With both of these, I forgot how in love we all were with trip hop in the mid to late 90s. Hip hop hadn’t yet completely taken over pop to where now everything has a strong beat. The early forays into that were sometimes magical and sometimes hella awkward.
KGB: Here’s what’s weird: when Version 2.0 came out, I didn’t like it. More than that: I felt personally let down. I wanted the angst and the scuzziness and the snarling, and all the pounding dance beats disappointed me in a major way. But listening to it again after all this time, I love it. There’s still menace (like in Push It) and that overblown psycho persona with a hint of humour (When I Grow Up), and the whole thing appeals to my 34 year old self a lot more than it did to the teenager who just wanted 12 more songs that sounded like Vow.
DN: I could be on board with that from a philosophical standpoint, but the dance beats sound sooooo dated.
Temptation is fine, but forgettable.
Paranoid is solid. Obviously it was one of their hits.
I love the line in When I Grow up about how she’ll be stable eventually. That goes back to what we were saying on the first album about romanticizing depression and angst.
Which also applies some to Medication.
KGB: I feel like that whole persona of instability reveals itself as something a bit more light-hearted on this album; in Paranoid and Grow Up there’s more than a hint of self-mocking, which I enjoy now that I have learned to laugh at my adolescent histrionics (ok fine I was still like that at 23 but whatever). Medication is quite brilliant, I think.
I don’t love Dumb or Hammering in My Head. They’re a bit too boom-boom-boom for my liking. Where do you stand on You Look So Fine? I have very much enjoyed rediscovering that song.
DN: Hammering in My Head is so 1998. This entire album is like a sonic distillation of what 1998 sounded like.
KGB: You are such a hater. I think it has aged well. Although I live in a country whose government is basically trying to pretend it’s 1979 so my perception is probably warped.
DN: I really like You Look So Fine. I especially like the opening. This song makes me think of my sophomore and junior years of high school. I was good friends with a girl who was a Garbage fan too. I have bittersweet memories of those years. Our friendship was super close for a while, and exploded in spectacular and painful fashion.
KGB: That sounds like a Garbage song in itself.
DN: Good point
I should clarify that I don’t hate Version 2.0. I just don’t think it’s aged as well as the first album did. I feel like I could play the self-titled for someone today who had no context for the album, and they would like it, or at least accept it. If I played Version 2.0, I would be making apologies and explanations for it.
KGB: I like that our viewpoints diverge on this so much. And I’m glad that having these conversations brought me back to Version 2.0because it’s been like catching up with an old friend. While the self-titled album was a bit of a letdown for me, listening to this again (and again and again) has been fun. I’ve had it playing at work all week and people who have come into my classroom have pricked their ears and nodded along. I’m basically performing a public service.
I don’t think it’s perfect or anything but I do like it. A lot. And, as with most of the other bands we’ve talked about, I kind of lost track of Garbage since this album and it’s made me want to rectify that.
DN: I wonder how their more recent stuff sounds. I have totally lost track them as well.
Shirley Manson is 50. That is so weird.
I’m a little afraid to listen to the more recent stuff. What if it sucks?
KGB: Isn’t it weird how we seem to have done that with these bands we liked so much in the 90s? I wonder if it’s a natural byproduct of growing up. Although by the early 2000s I was listening to The Clash and Blondie, so it was a weird kind of progress.
I dare you to listen to it.
DN: Agreed. I moved on to The Smiths and The Cure and all those other 80s bands.
KGB: I have just checked what post-1998 Garbage I have on my iPod. It’s one song. But it’s Why Do You Love Me? which is freaking awesome.
DN: I suppose I’ll have to listen.
KGB: Seriously, do. I had forgotten how great it is. It’s like all the bits of Garbage we liked, delightfully mixed into one stone cold banger.
DN: “Stone cold banger” is one of the most British things you’ve ever said.
KGB: That is genuinely how I talk.
DN: Which is perfectly fine. It was no insult. It was just very British.
KGB: I didn’t take it as an insult. I just wondered if you thought I was amping up the Britishness like a villain in an action movie. When I have been in the U.S. I have honestly been asked several times if I know the queen. These stereotypes can hurt.
I don’t know her, by the way.
DN: That happens here from state to state. “Oh, my sister lives in Ohio. Maybe you’ve met?” I mean, there are 12,000,000 people in this state, and it takes four hours to drive across it, but sure, maybe we’ve met.
KGB: Why are people so stupid?
And why are these people allowed to vote? That’s the big question.
DN: People genuinely do not think. I don’t mean that as shorthand for people being annoying. I mean it seriously: people do not stop and engage any level of mental processing before speaking. Or after speaking.
KGB: What a world!
DN: For real.