Headed by iconic frontwoman Shirley Manson, alternative quartet Garbage debuted in the '90s with a guitar-based, electronic-washed sound that built upon the sonic landscapes of My Bloody Valentine, Curve, and Sonic Youth, adding a distinct sense of accessible pop songcraft that would help push them beyond cult fandom into the international sphere through multiplatinum releases Garbage (1995) and the Grammy-nominated Version 2.0 (1998). After a brief stylistic shift on the pop-influenced Beautiful Garbage in 2001, the band hit a chart peak on 2005's no-frills Bleed Like Me. Despite an extended hiatus that threatened to end the band, they returned in the 2010s, settling into established veteran roles with the self-released, rock-focused efforts Not Your Kind of People (2012) and Strange Little Birds (2016).
Garbage was the brainchild of producers Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker. A native of Viroqua, Wisconsin, Vig learned to play piano as a child and drums as a teenager. After leaving college, he met future bandmate Erikson in the band Spooner. One of that band's fans turned out to be Marker, who approached the group and remained in touch over the years. While each one went on to pursue their own careers — Vig became an in-demand producer, best known for helming Nirvana's breakthrough, Nevermind — they wouldn't reunite until 1993, when they officially formed Garbage.
In search of a lead singer, the trio caught wind of Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson. Influenced by pioneering female rock vocalists Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, and Debbie Harry, Manson kicked off her music career at a young age, joining rock band Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie while just a teenager, playing keyboards and singing backing vocals from 1984 until the band's breakup in 1993. Along with three former MacKenzie bandmates, Manson formed alt-rock foursome Angelfish, which released a single, eponymous album in 1994. Back in the U.S., Marker saw a video for Angelfish's single "Suffocate Me." He contacted Manson and, after a couple auditions, she formally joined Garbage as their lead singer in August 1994.
Late that year and into early 1995, Garbage holed up in their Wisconsin studio to record their debut album. That eponymous first effort arrived in August on Almo Sounds. After receiving support from radio and MTV, the album began to climb the charts toward the end of 1995, peaking at number 20 on the Billboard 200. By the summer of 1996, Garbage had gone gold in the United States, and shortly afterward it achieved platinum status, supported by radio hits "Queer," "Only Happy When It Rains," and "Stupid Girl." Garbage was eventually certified multi-platinum and nominated for a pair of Grammy Awards in 1997. The band closed the era with a standout inclusion on the Romeo + Juliet film soundtrack, "#1 Crush," which topped the Billboard alternative chart in early 1997.
That summer, Garbage began work on their second album. The record, Version 2.0, was released in May 1998. Topping the U.K. chart and peaking at number 13 in the U.S., Version 2.0 produced six singles, three of which ("Push It," "I Think I'm Paranoid," and "When I Grow Up") were U.K. top ten hits. In the midst of an international headlining tour, Garbage received a pair of Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and Best Rock Album. At the tail-end of the album cycle, they contributed another hit song to a movie soundtrack, this time for the 19th James Bond flick, The World Is Not Enough.
For their third album, Beautiful Garbage, the band veered in a new direction, incorporating the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, and early-'60s girl groups. The first single, "Androgyny," became a moderate radio hit, but momentum stalled due to decreased promotion following 9/11. Three additional singles, including the electronic-pop "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)," kept the band on international charts into 2002. They promptly returned to the studio for a follow-up, but health issues and rising tension marred the recording process. The resulting album, Bleed Like Me, arrived in 2005 on A&E/Geffen. Their first Top Five showing on the Billboard 200, the straightforward rock set featured production by John King (Dust Brothers) and additional drumming from Dave Grohl. "Why Do You Love Me" became their highest-charting U.S. single since 1998's "Special," and subsequent selections "Sex Is Not the Enemy" and "Run Baby Run" charted internationally. Despite being a return-to-form after Beautiful Garbage, Bleed Like Me hit a terminal road block when the supporting tour was cancelled and the band announced it was going on an indefinite hiatus. During this time, Vig busied himself with various production projects, including nabbing a Grammy for Green Day's 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown. Also otherwise engaged, Manson recorded solo material and made her acting debut on the Fox television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. A greatest-hits set, Absolute Garbage, kept fans hopeful for an eventual return, which wouldn't happen until 2012.
After years of studio work, Garbage released their fifth album, Not Your Kind of People, in 2012. The first album of all-new material since 2005's Bleed Like Me, Not Your Kind of People was also their first independent release. Self-released on their own Stunvolume label, it included the lead single "Blood for Poppies" and peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200. An international tour kept them on the road until 2013. That year, Garbage teamed with Screaming Females for the Record Store Day single "Because the Night." In 2014, they commemorated Record Store Day with the Brody Dalle-assisted "Girls Talk" b/w "Time Will Destroy Everything." The stand-alone single "The Chemicals" was released for 2015's Record Store Day and featured a guest appearance from Silversun Pickups' Brian Aubert. A deluxe double-disc remaster of Garbage arrived at the end of the year, accompanied by the 20 Years Queer tour.
Garbage's sixth album, Strange Little Birds, was issued in 2016. Again self-released, it was a back-to-basics record, recorded in Vig's basement. Their least-produced album to date, it featured little of the obsessive studio tinkering that had characterized their earlier work, showcased by the raw, soulful single "Empty." Strange Little Birds topped the U.S. Independent, Top Alternative, and Top Rock charts, peaking at number 14 on the Billboard 200.
For the 2018 20th anniversary of Garbage's sophomore effort, Version 2.0, the band embarked on a tour and released a deluxe reissue that collected B-sides and rarities from the era. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Stephen Thomas Erlewine