The exception is "Cherry Lips," and to know just how oppositional it is, it helps to know that Ms. Manson wrote it for and about J.T. LeRoy, author of Sarahand The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Both of LeRoy's books are, among other things, about a boy abused by his hooker mom, who becomes a cross-dressing prostitute himself to both efface her and gain her love. The song, sung in a near falsetto, describes the mother as the "sweetest thing you had," while the music struts like a baby duck wagging its butt. Then it joyfully explodes, like the Shangri-Las covering the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," in a fever of love for the "delicate boy" in his "hot pants and high heels," making "rainbows appear" with heavenly harps and bells. (Manson's sense of nuance is on full force here; the way she hits the p in "pants" is almost worth the price of the CD itself.) It's the lightest, funnest, most ethereal way to describe the deepest, heaviest horror there is, and it has that wildly dynamic mix of artifice and rawness that gives it a slightly freakish energy even if you don't know what it's about. You could say it's false and obscene to write such a song about child abuse, except that, like "Only Happy When It Rains," there's that dead-on accuracy in the way it mimics the masks and poses, the little ducky struts that spring from such horror—and which enable people to survive it. In that sense, it's both more sinister and more true than the "human" wailing of "Silence Is Golden," which appears to be, with its agonized vocals, a more direct treatment of abuse ("I have been broken/something was stolen.") Normally, more direct would be better, but the perverse beauty of Garbage is strongest when it's twisted.

Both fantastic and totally real
photo: Courtesy Interscope Records
Both fantastic and totally real

Good for Garbage, though, for trying something new. The '60s girl groups were great, but they were formula, and Manson's not. Instead of staying with the perfect fit, she seems to be trying on different styles—looking for one that best suits the person she's become since the mid '90s.

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