Temptation Waits: Garbage’s Version 2.0 at 25

Looking back on the group’s forward-thinking second album

Garbage 1998 press photo (Image: Almo Sounds)

Garbage was a busy band between its formation and the time it started working on its second album.

That album, Garbage Version 2.0, released 25 years ago today, became their second classic in a row.

Garbage spent 18 months touring behind their self-titled debut. At times it felt like it might take that long to finish the follow-up.

The recording took almost a full year from start to finish. Lead singer Shirley Manson put her foot down in December, 1997. She told CMJ New Music Monthly in 1998, “I felt like a schoolmarm. I was leaving for Scotland for the Christmas holidays and I had to sit them down and say, ‘The noodling must stop!'”

Part of the reason things took so long was the group’s exploration of new technology.

“We were beta-testing a lot of the software that everybody uses today,” Manson told Billboard in 2018. “The world had never discovered Digidesign or Pro Tools. Version 2.0 is interesting because it’s coming from an analog mindset, but it utilizes this new technology. Nobody had a clue, including the designers, who were on the phone to [drummer and producer] Butch [Vig] and our engineer. Nobody knew where this was going.”

The embrace of technology led to its title which referenced updates to computer systems and software. “It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek,” Manson told MTV News in 1998. “Computers almost completely ruled our life for a year. In the studio, at any given moment, someone would come in and find the four of us in front of the screen.”

There was some truth to the humor, as the group felt they’d established their sound and sensibility pretty well on Garbage. They weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel on Version 2.0, just make a better version of themselves on record.

Garbage Version 2.0, Almo Sounds 1998

As eager as Manson was to be done with the album, she’d been just as eager to start it.

“I was keen to get going, because I knew that you have to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak,” she told Billboard. “It’s such a highly competitive game. The music business is not for the faint of heart. It’s tough and it’s ruthless, and if you step out of your seat for ten seconds, somebody’s gonna sit down in it. I’d been in [another] band for 10 years, and I knew enough to know the position we were in with Garbage. I wanted to capitalize on that.”

That band was Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, a Scottish group where Manson had been one of its keyboardists and backing vocalists. It had been planned for her to sing more lead on the group’s third album, Five, but only one of those songs made the final cut.

The Mackenzies were not in a good situation with the label during the period. Manson signed a solo deal (with the rest of the group officially being her “backing band”) to get around the band’s existing contract issues. Thus began Angelfish.

It was that project, written during the same time as Five, that would change Manson’s career trajectory. A music video for the Siouxsie-influenced “Suffocate Me” aired on MTV’s 120 Minutes (back when MTV aired music and wasn’t All Ridiculousness, All The Time).

At this time, the other three who’d comprise Garbage – Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Vig, had been working on new music together. They felt about the ideas that were bubbling up, but they also thought it called for a woman, rather than Vig, to sing it. 

Marker saw the “Suffocate Me” video, which was far from being in heavy rotation, and told Erikson and Vig that Manson just might be the voice they were looking for.

Her first audition, after Angelfish came to an end, went poorly. The combination of nobody else filling the bill and Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie being on its way to dissolving created another chance. Knowing that she shared musical sensibilities with the other three, she asked to meet up with them again. This time, things clicked more readily. Work soon began on what would become Garbage, which would eventually go double-platinum after its August 1995 release.

The initial songwriting started with a month’s worth of jams in January at a Friday, Washington home owned by Jerry Moss, one of the owners of their American label, Almo Sounds.

This wasn’t a situation where the band had material coming into the sessions. There was no grand plan. There was the tweaking and adjusting with new technology. Parts were re-recorded and re-mixed. The group started on one digital recorder, eventually expanding to three. Recording exclusively digitally allowed unlimited room to play in the toy store, which turned into a song with 200 tracks in one instance. In all, the band was coming up with what Vig told CMJ could have amounted to five albums.”The technology gave us so many possibilities,” he said. You find yourself going, ‘I can do this. I can try that. And you can go crazy. In fact, we did.”

Out of the rabbit hole at last, the band finished producing and mixing in February.

Garbage had been listening to their share of electronic music by this point, from the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy to the trip-hop sounds emerging from Tricky and Portishead. These sounds making their way into their music wasn’t a new thing, Garbage had its share of beats and samples. For example, one of its big hits — “Stupid Girl” was built off a loop from the Clash’s “Train in Vain” and had a sample from R.E.M’s “Orange Crush” (or a sample built from reproducing the part themselves) in the chorus.


VIDEO: Garbage “Push It”

On Version 2.0, Garbage extended that to lyrical nods as well. The driving “Push It” quotes the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby.” The stellar pop of “Special” lifts from the Pretenders’ “Brass In Pocket” in the chorus and “Talk of the Town” in the outro. The American Breed’s 1968 hit “Bend Me, Shape Me” makes an appearance in “I Think I’m Paranoid.” And while it’s not an outright quote, the chorus of “Sleep Together” (which somehow was not picked as a single) tips its hat to underrated ’80s hit “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void.

The lyrical tour through Manson’s record collection was delivered in songs that were more personal than on Garbage. That’s because she took over the lyric writing after the four shared those duties on the first album.

Manson later said the only lyrics that didn’t come from her life were in “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing”, which shares a title from Scottish author Janice Crowley’s debut 1989 novel and inspiration from its protagonist. The ballad, for all its moody atmospherics and more spare verse backing, is about finding whatever it takes to keep going.

For all its sexy veneer, “Sleep Together” cut deeper,  its bravado belying vulnerable lyrics about desiring a connection beyond the physical.

Coming into Version 2.0, Manson was a mix of growing confidence with a feeling that success could be too fleeting — not so much impostor syndrome as fearing that fortune could turn elsewhere and she could be back in Edinburgh working retail.

It’s the confidence that comes through on tone-setting opener “Temptation Waits”, her treated vocal sounding slightly underwater without any dilution of the attitude in its opening lyrics (I’ll tell you something/I am a wolf but/I like to wear sheep’s clothing/I am a bonfire/I am a vampire/I’m waiting for my moment”).

It also comes through with the honesty in the ballads. “Medication” was inspired by Manson’s dealing with the patient-unfriendly healthcare system in the U.S., but it works just as well as a declaration of personal autonomy. “You Look So Fine” floats along its trip-hop inspired groove with lyrics of romance being colored at the edges by doubt and pain.

For all of the fussing and tinkering in its creation, Version 2.0 manages to be pretty seamless. Unlike some other acts in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Garbage integrated electronics organically into rock and pop. This wasn’t attempting to glom on to a trend.

“Push It” goes from its dancehouse verses to a guitar-driven chorus. Aided by a memorably surrealistic video by director Andrea Giacobbe, the song quickly became a favorite.

“Hammering in My Head” skitters along in manic fashion, punctuated by melodic moments, sounding like it stepped right off the film soundtrack for a late ’90s chase scene. You know the aesthetic: Go, Run Lola Run and the like.


VIDEO: Garbage “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing”

Not everything musically on Version 2.0 boiled down to electronics. Vig recorded a number of drum parts in an abandoned candy factory near Smart Studios, co-owned by Vig and Marker. This lasted until they realized the wonderful acoustics were more welcoming than the neighbors, who complained about the noise.

For the lucky break that kick-started her involvement in Garbage, Manson’s ascent sounds less surprising in retrospect. She showed a presence on Angelfish songs like the capable ’80s album rock of “Heartbreak and Hate” and “King of the World”, which could have been a jangly college radio standard had it been done by The Church or one of many Dunedin bands. And Garbage was full of star turns, not just on the biggest hits, but on the affirming, sexy “Queer” and the achingly gorgeous melancholy of “Milk.”

It was a timely confluence, as Manson grew as an artist, the men of Garbage were the perfect partners and foils. She may have been in the spotlight, but this was no mere backing band. This was, as Vig later put it, “a dysfunctional democracy” with all four members having strong ideas. The net result was that, with all due respect to her prior bands, Manson was in better surroundings. The rising tide was indeed lifting all boats.

In their hands, “Dumb” is Reznor-goes-pop with more punch than that would suggest. “Wicked Ways” is a strutting, stomping look at infidelity. 

They make sure the album’s biggest sugar rush moments – “When I Grow Up” and “Special” – land with surefooted assurance. The former is full of puffed out chest bravado while knowing that the likelihood of feeling like you’ll have it all figured out down the road isn’t as great as you’d think. The latter, beyond the obvious and understandable affection for the Pretenders circa 1980-81, wraps itself in updated girl group energy with spunky lyrics about the moment where relationship reality arrives after the lovey dovey fog clears.


VIDEO: Garbage “I Think I’m Paranoid”

The album stands as a consistent complete work on its own, but the B-sides added to the 2018 deluxe reissue show that the creativity wasn’t limited to the original album. “Afterglow” is both Portishead tribute and a slinkier glide through Bond theme territory than “The World Is Not Enough”. The sly, sexy “Get Busy With The Fizzy” has Manson speak-singing the verses with danceable backing. “Lick the Pavement” carries a rock punch. And the cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen” amplifies the original’s wistfulness while sounding for all the world like a Garbage original.

For all of the excitement around Version 2.0’s success, it wasn’t a smooth experience for Manson. After the first show of the tour in Ireland, she noticed a lump on her breast. While the tumor was thankfully benign, the surgery didn’t go as planned and Manson, in pain, performed a number of shows in a sling. 

Being an attractive, charismatic lead singer in a band that was quickly successful, there was no shortage of male gaze that, annoying to others, had a deleterious effect on her body dysmorphia. Manson has a well-deserved reputation as a strong, defiant feminist inspiration to her audience, some of whom would go on to be singers and musicians themselves. But at the end of the day, she was not some invulnerable superhero impervious to pain. Divas can own the stage, but they can’t live there all day, every day, every hour.

Manson, beset with various issues including a pending divorce that she didn’t want to become tabloid fodder, sought therapy during the making of Garbage’s third album, 2001’s Beautiful Garbage. It was a move that, in her words, saved her life.

Version 2.0 promo poster (Image: eBay)

These days, Manson’s able to enjoy the better parts of Version 2.0’s success, telling the NME in 2018, “It was just a lot of madness, and so it’s only now that I can look back and enjoy the success that we experienced. We had so much success with the first record and we never in our wildest dreams imagined that we could repeat that, and yet we did. This time it felt legitimate.”

Indeed, it was.

For all the sonic trappings that recall the time of its creation, Garbage’s embrace of all the new toys in their sonic sandbox paid off. Matched to a strong collection of songs, Version 2.0 sounds fresh 25 years later.

In 2018, Manson told Billboard, “The only way I can describe it is that we wanted to make a record that sort of sounded like Blade Runner. The sonic equivalent of how Blade Runner looks is what we were chasing. Whether we got there or not is open to argument.”

Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic wrapped questions of what makes us human within its futuristic detective story trappings.

But whereas the movie left whether its protagonist was human at all up to debate, there are no such questions about Version 2.0. It’s a work full of sexy vitality, sharp intelligence, clear-eyed honesty and unmistakably, deeply human.


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Kara Tucker

Kara Tucker, after years of sportswriting, has turned to her first-love—music. She lives in New York City with her partner and their competing record collections.

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