1998: “Special” (Garbage, Version 2.0)
While everybody else in the 90s seemed to be going nuts over Marilyn, my Manson of choice was Shirley. That she was a rather striking redhead had more than a little to do with it, although that was just the foot in the door. She’d have been a disposable pop star if it wasn’t for the fact that her band flat-out rocked and she could belt with the best of them. This wasn’t some gimmick band hoping to cash in on a pretty face out front. Their name may have been Garbage, but they were certainly not.
It didn’t hurt that in addition to the insanely talented Manson, Garbage had Butch Vig in their pocket. Vig was producer on arguably two of the biggest indie albums of the 90s, Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, which meant he had a history with charismatic lead singers. He also had the sensibility to put together polished albums that didn’t sound slick and over-produced. And with an instrument like Manson at his disposal, it’s no wonder Garbage’s debut album burst onto the scene in 1995. She’s got a voice that manages to be feminine yet tough, seductively strong, one moment luring you in and the next forcing you back. And having seen her live, the combination of that voice and her looks is incredibly alluring. You absolutely can’t take your eyes or ears off her. Just how good is Manson’s voice? Good enough to be asked to sing The World is Not Enough, probably the best of the Brosnan Bond tunes. They don’t peg just anybody to kick off a Bond movie, and when they pick you, you’ve kind of made it.
One of the reasons “Special” stood out for me was its completely nonsensical 80s throwback of a music video. While the lyrics are about a friend with whom Manson had a falling out, the video features members of the band engaging in a dogfight over an alien planet, flying planes that are a bizarre mix of World War I and Flash Gordon. It’s a nod to the early days of music videos when nobody really knew what they were doing, and therefore were willing to try any damn thing that came to mind. There’s no real story, and while you could stretch it and say the dogfight represents the end of a friendship, there’s precious little applicability to the song. It’s just cool images that fit the rhythm of the song, and which offer up an excuse to show off a glammed up Manson flying a spaceship. With which there ain’t a damn thing wrong.
So far this list has been rather light on female artists, something I’m trying to come to grips with. It’s not that I’ve never appreciated women in music, but it just seems like most of the songs that have stuck with me have come from male-dominated acts. Maybe that’s a factor of being male myself, but it’s not like every song bears the stamp of its gender; there’s nothing specifically feminine about “Special,” just as there’s nothing inherently masculine about, say, “Tonight, Tonight,” apart from the sex of the singer. Could be it’s just an inbred predilection, one that I’ve been making efforts to change over the last few years. But I don’t want to imply including Garbage was some sort of attempt to balance the scales as far as this series goes, despite my nods to Manson’s obvious attractiveness. They’re a legitimately great band, whatever the gender of the person out there behind the mic.