Listen to the Ultimate Garbage Playlist Before They Storm NYC

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It’s been twenty years since Garbage released their self-titled first album, thus securing a spot for Shirley Manson in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Frontwomen Hall of Fame and blistering the eardrums of thousands with “Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl,” and the rest of their deafening debut. They’ll return to New York this weekend to celebrate the two decades of Garbage‘s existence on their Twenty Years Queer tour, playing the record through in its entirety and bringing various singles and B sides into the set (including “#1 Crush,” the devastating number that went so well with Leonardo DiCaprio’s cry-face from 1996’s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack).

While Garbage is great, Garbage is greater, and now’s as good a time as any to reflect on twenty years of hard, loud, and exceptionally catchy alt-pop tracks. Here’s a list of Garbage songs that we’ve been blasting on repeat in anticipation of the band’s gigs at the Space at Westbury (October 23) and the Kings Theatre (October 24).

“My Lover’s Box”
With its watery mix and soul-crushing shred, “My Lover’s Box” feels, in some ways, like Garbage’s tribute to their shoegazing contemporaries. The structure is relatively formulaic, a repetition of verse-chorus-verse that relies on Manson’s lyrics to build mood. But these are some of her most powerful allegorical lines — in the throes of a gothic romanticism, she sings of being tortured, imprisoned, and ultimately doomed, her only hope a collection of keepsakes from a long-lost other half, the only thing that could get her closer to a God who has seemingly forsaken her. Like a lullaby of a madwoman singing herself to sleep, warped by Butch Vig’s metastasizing production, Manson’s incantations overlap while the guitar builds, and builds, and builds before diving off a cliff into abrupt oblivion. “My Lover’s Box” proved that few bands could do melodrama quite like Garbage. — Lindsey Rhoades

“The World Is Not Enough”
Rarely is a modern Bond theme so indebted to the Shirley Bassey classics while maintaining the signature style of the performer as “The World Is Not Enough,” from 1999’s film of the same name. (Don’t worry, Adele, “Skyfall” is part of that category, too.) What is particularly striking about Garbage’s addition to the canon is how heavily it relies on Manson’s signature snarl, boosting her ability to make even the moodiest instrumental sound even more mercurial. And with those searing strings, this song is just enormous. — Claire Lobenfeld

“Push It”
“I was angry when I met you/I think I’m angry still” is a hell of a line to lead with, and that’s what Garbage chose as their opening statement for hugely successful sophomore album Version 2.0. “Push It” was the side-eyeing single that had Manson switching between smooth, comforting lines worthy of an alt-rock lullaby and lung-collapsing screams in the matter of a downbeat. It recalled the unsmiling glory of “Only Happy When It Rains” and the grungier tics of their debut while slingshotting Garbage’s sound into the steelier musical claws of the Aughts in a way that separated it from the rest of the Version 2.0 pack. A lesson in sonic checks and balances, “Push It” is perfect in that it frames Manson as a veritable alt-rock Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde: She’s more than capable of singing the hell out of the sweetest lines, but her strength and intensity will level you like an earthquake. Fans knew that with Garbage, but they took it as gospel with Version 2.0 thanks in large part to this track. — Hilary Hughes

“#1 Crush”
Written during the same sessions as their debut and released as a B side to “Vow,” “#1 Crush” turned out to be an oddly prescient title for a throwaway track when it got a remix courtesy of Nellee Hooper and Marius de Vries and landed on the blockbuster soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s modern-day, Technicolor retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. As it stands, it’s the only Garbage song that’s actually reached No. 1 on any U.S. chart. The Hooper/de Vries version added the now-iconic sighs and moans that (perhaps) had a hand in making it a smash, but the spidery guitar line punctuated by jagged, grinding riffs was always present. Beyond that, the song’s dire themes of obsession, desperation, and star-crossed love take somewhat universal sentiments to startling, stalker-esque extremes, and therein lies its power: “#1 Crush” was the perfect anthem for pathological repeat plays, triggering the impulse by celebrating all-consuming compulsion. — Lindsey Rhoades

“Only Happy When It Rains”
Teeming with irony and brooding lyricism, Garbage’s third single is more than iconic, it’s seminal. Tapping into the emotive zeitgeist of 1995, the gloomy yet memorable single cranks the proverbial dial to eleven in terms of its emotives, giving listeners the opportunity to either take the words of the song at face value or to revel in the satisfyingly sarcastic timbre of Manson’s diction. Recorded in Madison, Wisconsin, at Smart Studios, Garbage’s chart-topping hit is rooted in disenchantment. With memorable lines like “I’m only happy when it’s complicated,” the source of joy in this anthem is melancholic, moody, and disagreeable without apology. The perfect soundtrack for any scenario ranging from jaded romance to generalized discontent, “Only Happy When It Rains” remains flawless in its dissonance. After twenty years, it continues to be a well-crafted monument to cynicism and angst. — Dianca Potts

“As Heaven Is Wide”
That something could be “pop-industrial” simply sounds rotten, but what Garbage accomplishes with “As Heaven Is Wide” is as close to the delineation one can get before flying off the rails. Atop a cavern of disparate-toned synths and a wickedly cutting guitar line, Manson near-pants vitriol for someone so loathsome she’s eulogizing him before he’s even dead. “If flesh could crawl/My skin would fall/From off my bones/And run away from here”? Yeesh. And when the subtle, off-kilter keys hit before the hollow, percussive conclusion, Manson delivers one of the most brutal refusals of forgiveness before the song ascends into drum’n’bass and the riffs get even rougher. — Claire Lobenfeld

“Battle in Me”
Garbage fans rejoiced in 2012 when their beloved band returned after a seemingly endless seven-year hiatus with Not Your Kind of People. “Battle in Me” served as the triumphant second single from the comeback album, with the band waging an all-cylinder assault via heavy riffs and metallic rhythms behind an unflinching-as-ever Manson. Thankfully, the time away did more good than harm for Garbage’s sound, as this Letterman performance in particular has them sounding fierce, fresh, and on top of their game nearly twenty years after they started playing it. — Hilary Hughes

Garbage – Tell Me Where It Hurts by misslupin

“Tell Me Where It Hurts”
The opening bars’ dramatic rush of strings on this, the lead single from Absolute Garbage (the band’s cheekily titled 2007 retrospective), felt more optimistic than anything in their catalog up to that point, and found Manson at her most comforting. “All I care about is you, and that’s the truth,” she sang, with no hint of irony or venom in her delivery. That was slightly ironic, considering the band was on hiatus at the time and should’ve been producing their angstiest material. It was the only new track on the career-spanning compilation, inspired in part by Burt Bacharach’s epic sentimental flourishes. The visually stunning video for the song is equally cinematic, directed by Sophie Muller as an homage to the 1967 Luis Buñuel classic Belle de Jour. — Lindsey Rhoades

“I Think I’m Paranoid”
Version 2.0’s “I Think I’m Paranoid” is emotionally and audibly visceral. Cathartic like the meter of confessional poetry or a tub of Ben & Jerry’s after a trying week, the second track off Garbage’s sophomore release refuses to pull any punches. Devoid of the thematic coyness that so often plagued the band’s contemporaries, the nearly three-and-a-half-minute track conveys a dark romanticism in relation to the self and the self’s connection to others. Its narrative is a portrait of awareness in a culture that repeatedly mistakes sanity for hysteria or paranoia. As if Manson were channeling Plath or Sexton (think “Self in 1958”), her delivery is amplified by pristinely executed distortion and driving riffs, the song’s chorus imploring its audience to “bend” and “break” the track’s protagonist. Its instrumentation is undeniably melodic yet bears its teeth without warning as the first verse progresses towards the chorus, urging, “You can never change me.” A plausible cure-all for frustration, “I Think I’m Paranoid,” much like the rest of Garbage’s discography, embraces imperfection, venerating flaws through song. — Dianca Potts

“Dog New Tricks”
“Dog New Tricks” is more beholden to grunge than most of Garbage’s output, but despite this and the song’s title, nothing here is racked with cliché. Manson bemoans the hell of other people — and even herself. But instead of employing the old saw toward its intended meaning, it takes on a number of shades here — mostly, that unreliability is relentless and insecurity doesn’t allow room to shake the temperamental off. When she sings, “I wish I had not woke up today,” it’s an ode to the banality of the erratic. But with those angular riffs and key changes with each wave of pain, the song is the complete opposite of what it laments. — Claire Lobenfeld

After “Push It” and “Paranoid” heralded the soar of Version 2.0, Garbage released “Special,” the third — and arguably most memorable — single off their sophomore release. The super sci-fi arc of the music video, with Manson at the helm of a fighter jet, certainly helps its staying power, but at the time, it netted Garbage an MTV Video Music Award and Grammy noms for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group at the 2000 installment of the awards ceremony. Its empowering post-heartbreak sentiments are timeless, and “Special” is just that, a remarkable tune that crystallizes Garbage’s full-throttle approach and bombastic energy in four minutes flat. — Hilary Hughes

“Not Your Kind of People”
The title track from Garbage’s 2012 release, the first since their return from that seven-year hiatus, served as a fitting reintroduction to the band’s misanthropic ethos. Its incredibly detailed production flourishes — distant church bells, overdubbed vocals that sound like a creepy freak show chorus, the desolate tinkling of what could be a haunted player piano — evoke the vibe of a ghoulish carnival without veering into pastiche. An anthem for outsiders if ever there was one, Manson’s lyrical message is ultimately uplifting; after spending the song’s span reiterating its title in the royal “we” and expounding upon the virtues of being an outsider in a world full of boring normals, she fades out on the repeated line “We are extraordinary people.” If anyone had forgotten Garbage’s legacy, “Not Your Kind of People” provided a smirking reminder. — Lindsey Rhoades

“Breaking Up the Girl”
2001’s “Breaking Up the Girl,” the second single off Beautiful Garbage, is a jangly, catchy whirlwind of a song, as melodic as it is melancholy. Alerting listeners to “modern culture” and its “million ways to kill,” Manson’s tone is unwavering and undaunted by “the dangerous world.” With its swoon-worthy instrumentation and cautionary lyricism, “Breaking Up the Girl” feels like an intimate glimpse into the female psyche and its endless struggle to survive beneath the weight of postmodernity and its attendant limitations. The track is unabashed, yet optimistic to the core. Despite the dangers of the world, Manson urges, “take chances,” promising that “magic happens,” leaving her audience to wonder if the breaking is merely the beginning to growth. The track champions survival without dismissing pain. — Dianca Potts

“Temptation Waits”
The opener to Version 2.0, “Temptation Waits” proved Garbage’s penchant for pop was well-defined. While the verses hold tight to their swirling, world-building alt-rock synths, Manson’s presence on the hook is especially bright. Lyrics like “You come on like a drug/I just can’t get enough” are de rigueur for the band, but this time around they were giving us euphoria instead of withdrawal-addled, breathless begging. A welcome move forward without a single sonic thread lost. — Claire Lobenfeld

“Because the Night” (with Screaming Females)
This is the only cover on this list, and for good reason: Garbage teamed up with 2013 tourmates Screaming Females to record a cover of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” which they’d then release as a Record Store Day special (on seafoam-green vinyl, to boot) that year. Between Smith, Bruce Springsteen — who co-penned the track — and Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster, the multigenerational Jersey pride on this particular cover was prevalent, but the chemistry struck between Paternoster and Manson in particular made for a globally recognized, unsuspecting treat. — Hilary Hughes

“Bad Boyfriend”
A refreshingly disillusioned approach toward matters of the heart, Bleed Like Me’s “Bad Boyfriend” is tongue-in-cheek perfection. Buzzing riffs frame a crooned-out invite to a would-be lover from Manson, which characteristically is offered without a stitch of hesitation or remorse. The track’s aggression is palpable, amplified by its resistance to the antics of being head-over-heels. “Bad Boyfriend” is a rejection of a narrative far too often celebrated. Here, Manson is not so much jaded as she is matter-of-fact. Going straight for the jugular, she keens, “If you can’t love me, honey, go on, just pretend.” A suitable favorite for skeptics and realists alike, “Bad Boyfriend” is an underrated yet classic example of Garbage at their finest. (The track also employs Dave Grohl, which makes an already noteworthy cut even more irresistible.) — Dianca Potts

Garbage play the Space at Westbury on October 23 and the Kings Theatre on October 24.