Garbage - Version 2.0

IN OUR POST-PRODIGY, post-Marilyn Manson times, it feels almost churlish to criticise Garbage's impeccably tailored cyber-goth rocktronica. So maybe they are the Disco Tin Machine or the Stadium Sneaker Pimps, methodically fashioning bespoke pseudo-gloomo radio anthems for corporate drones with identical nose-rings and pierced foreskins. But hey - even Lollapalooza brats have to grow up eventually.

At least Shirley, Butch, Dobbin and R2D2 don't crave bogus 'authenticity' like most of their multi-platinum post-grunge peers. And with four million copies of their self-titled debut already downloaded, we can hardly knock the plastic-fantastic four for accessing similar terrain second time around.

Even that knowing title is endearing in a late-'80s, pop-will-delete-itself way. Like U2, Garbage have twigged that they are a disposable product in the rock supermarket. Unlike U2, though, they know they are not fighting The System from the inside - they are The System. Which is certainly more honest than Eddie Vedder's self-sabotage or Thom Yorke's self-laceration. The real trick, though, is to have fun in this fallen world.

Within these limitations, then, 'Version 2.0' is a beautifully engineered piece of modern design. Much more poppy than the techno-grunge-lite of 'Garbage', it's also far more nimble and disco-fixated than the substandard heavy metal of most 'alternative' rock. It's woozy and sleek on 'Temptation Waits' and 'The Trick Is To Keep Breathing', revved-up and politely abrasive on 'Hammering In My Head' and 'Dumb'. The interior decor is as opulent and flush-fitting as we might expect from a band featuring three producers, like an ultra-posh hotel lobby after a Wagnerian Goth Futurism refit. A little overpolished and featureless, perhaps, but that black rubber wallpaper is simply divine, sweetie.

Ultimately, though, Shirley's lyrics remain the album's focus - and, alas, its weak link. Sure, the shameless way she incorporates random snippets of Amen Corner's 'Bend Me Shape Me' into 'I Think I'm Paranoid', The Beach Boys' 'Don't Worry Baby' into 'Push It' and The Pretenders' 'Talk Of The Town' into 'Special' are pretty cute in a Shaun Ryder-esque steal-it-and-shag-it sense. And, yeah, her occasional Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde and PJ Harvey inflections are equally brazen, equally arch.

But Shirley told NME a few weeks ago that she wants to "bleed" in her songs. Thus there is no ironic spin to the sophomoric soul-baring here; no satirical intent behind her tame allusions to bondage and S&M; no postmodern distance from her off-the-shelf angst. In most bands this directness would be a blessing, but for dry old veterans like Garbage, an engaging cleverness is all they can realistically hope for. And while the best lyricists - Jarvis, say - can use this very artifice to make an even stronger emotional connection, Manson's verbal skills operate at a far more basic level. She means it in a feel-my-depth Gavin Rossdale way, in a paint-my-bedroom-black Trent Reznor way, in an anybody-seen-my-sense-of-humour Henry Rollins way. Oh dear.

Ultimately, Garbage are still too harmless, too guileless, too unassuming to hate. But it's equally difficult to imagine ever feeling impassioned, intoxicated or even mildly moved by their business-class executive rock and cartoon-vamp posturing. 'Version 2.0' is state-of-the-art corporate software: virus free, millennium friendly, functional and slick. But, outside of office hours, pretty damn forgettable.


Stephen Dalton