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by Paul Anderson
In 1999 sultry red-headed Scots singer Shirley Manson was on top of the world. Literally.
Perched upon a fibreglass globe, the singer belted out the vocals in the video for their James Bond theme tune, "The World Is Not Enough", the title track to the movie of the same name. For her and her band Garbage - completed by guitarists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, with former Nirvana producer Butch Vig behind the drum kit, being asked to perform the track was a testiment to the mark and influence that they had made in the music world.
By that time the band had shifted nearly four million units of their second album, "Version 2.0", equalling the tally of their first effort - the eponymously named debut "Garbage" and had finally proved their sniping critics that they weren't one-hit-wonders, a producer's super-group, or a sophomore slump, and had rounded off two successful years of world touring in support of the album - a 20 month mammoth tour, that also included a sold-out arena jaunt around the UK and Europe.
The "Version 2.0" album provided more hits to the first record's collection of singles - such as "#1 Crush", "Stupid Girl" and "Only Happy When It Rains". They left those previous successes behind when the video clip for single "Push it" was nominated for eight MTV Video Awards, and the tracks "When I Grow Up" and "Special" became massive state-side hits. The group became internationally renowned, their tracks - chart hits and remixes - club-floor fillers, while frontwoman Shirley Manson became the pin-up of choice for the late nineties post-modern indie kids.
Then, after a two year abscence, it all came crashing down. It took until late September 2002, three long years later, for the band to acheive their next UK top 20 single, which came in the form of an ultra-limited release of single "Shut Your Mouth", which was the final single and also the opening track to their "Version 2.0" follow up record "BeautifulGarbage".
The album itself made the UK top 10, peaking No. 6 in the first week of October 2001, selling over 26,000 copies in its first week. It was warmly recieved by critics and fans alike, although many questioned the band's decision to make such a musical departure from their first two Grammy nominated multi-platinum records. The band's trademark loops, beats and samples had been replaced by pop anthems, sublime sonics and guitars that acually sounded like guitars (!). However, almost as soon as the record hit the shelves, the band's worldwide record companies and supporters abandoned them and the record quickly sank without trace.
The album, written, recorded and produced by the band between April 2000 - June 2001, featured many mesmerising and exotic new directions. Shirley Manson's lyrics brought out the whole wide range of human emotions, that so many other singer-songwriters fail to do in their allotted twelve-trackers. The record had some of the darkest and heaviest pop songs that you'd ever hear, from the grinding guitars of "Silence Is Golden" to the burnt winged strings of "Drive You Home", the designer dirty funk of "Shut Your Mouth" to the electronic soundscape that marches to the drum of "Parade".
A few minor singles from the record helped the band remain bouyant in the UK, "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)" being the most notable, reaching No. 22 in January 2002. Even a sell-out UK tour in the Spring, a headlining slot at Glastonbury and lots of healthy televison exposure could silence the groups snipers, who kept their venom flowing at the group throughout. Even though the band had out-lasted acts who had careers when they had just started theirs, it looked ever increasingly likely that the group would join those acts who had fallen by the wayside - such as mid-1990s indie-rock contemporaries Sleeper, Catatonia, Skunk Anansie, and the Smashing Pumpkins.
The ever changing face of music almost claimed another victim, and Garbage nearly did become another group destroyed by the new music superstars - the DJs, producers and "Pop Idols". However, the band defiantly struggled on touring the record like demons. Alas, despite no promotion from their US record company Interscope and no airplay support from radio, they eventually managed to shift over two million units of "BeautifulGarbage".
Along the way legal wrangles, band member illnesses and intense paranoia almost brought the group apart from the inside, but they managed to complete the year on a high, sharing a billing with The Distillers as support to fellow US rockers No Doubt on a US arena tour where some nights ended with all three groups gathering on stage to cover Blondie's hit song "Call Me".
The band emerged triumphant from the tour, knowing once again that there was an audience for them, a belief that had almost been lost at the start of the year when they had been wrote off in almost all of the major world music markets, in favour of new groups such as The Strokes or The White Stripes (except in Australia, where the band enjoyed a Top 10 hit with "Cherry Lips" and "BeautifulGarbage" itself topped the Aussie albums chart).
After the end of the year the band regrouped in their studios in Madison, Wisconsin and have began writing material for their fourth record, due out at the end of the year. Wether the record is doomed to "pre-determined failure", like "BeautifulGarbage", is unknown, but the pressure on the group is on.
Advance word and rumours suggest a duet between Shirley Manson and Blondie's Debbie Harry is on the cards - which if followed through, may be a good move for them. Look at Gwen Stefani - No Doubt were similarly written off three years ago, until her group was able to bounce back on the support from her hit duet with US rapper Eve.
Only time will tell if Shirley Manson will once again fly her flag on top of the world and reclaim her Rock Queen crown from new girls Avril Lavigne, Amy Studt and Evanescence's Amy Lee.