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Garbage sticks together

Whether or not the band split while recording, members feel it all came together in the new disc.

April 07, 2005|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

There's nothing like creative tension to bring out the best in a band. Personal and personnel problems have crafted hits for bands from Fleetwood Mac ("Rumours" arguably being the best-known result of a group whose internal strife led to commercial success) to the Police.

Add to that long list Garbage and its latest album, "Bleed Like Me," a work whose scars are so vividly painted in music that the songs feel like fresh scabs. Depending on which band member you ask, the quartet did or did not break up for four months during the recording of the album.

Either way, the group's drummer and producer, Butch Vig, says he suffered the pain and loss of a breakup.

"It bottomed out pretty bad. For whatever reason we just spiraled into a black hole," Vig said recently from Paris, where the foursome was promoting the new album with a TV performance. "There were a lot of personal arguments and we couldn't agree on songs. I know Shirley [Manson, Garbage's singer] was having a hard time coming up with lyrics and not getting inspired. I personally was not digging the way the songs were sounding" during preliminary recording sessions at Garbage's studio in the group's hometown of Madison, Wis.

"When I got on the plane and flew to L.A., I thought the band was over. I hadn't slept the whole weekend before I met with everybody, and I was shaking and crying when I told them, because this band had been very important to all of us."

Initially, Vig resided in his misery in his Silver Lake home, listening to jazz, film soundtracks and Spanish music, styles that allowed him to avoid "analyzing music and thinking about it in terms of what we're doing or what other artists are doing."

A trip to the mall at Christmas returned him to the Garbage mind-set: "I was shopping at a mall with a friend of mine, these two kids came up and went, 'Hey, man, how's it going? We're huge fans of yours. We can't wait to hear the new Garbage record.'

"I didn't have the heart to tell them that there's a possibility we no longer exist."

Another boost came a day later when he ran into old friend Dave Grohl -- Vig produced Nirvana's "Nevermind" album -- at a Christmas party and invited him to play on a song. "He came in and when he played on that song ["Bad Boyfriend"], he raised the bar," Vig said. He brought in a different energy level. It got us really psyched from that point on."

From there the group responded with a new vibrancy.

"When we did get back together, there was a whole new desperate feeling that we could lose this, and it was like we were playing for our very lives here," Vig said.

The result, by Vig's account, is the group's best record. He's not the only one who feels that way. "To my mind they have never made a better record," said Rob Tannenbaum, music editor for Blender magazine, in an interview. "You have four members, each of whom is smart, talented and knows rock 'n' roll."

That is evident throughout "Bleed Like Me." As Grohl lays down a mighty backbeat on "Bad Boyfriend," Manson gets in touch with her inner Debbie Harry. Manson holds that snarling vocal aggression on "Right Between the Eyes," a track that melds the quartet's talent for infectious hooks with the newfound ferociousness. The same marriage elevates the lead single, "Why Do You Love Me," into a memorable diatribe on relationship insecurity. And "It's All Over but the Crying" is a near ballad, but its kiss-off message is felt as harshly as Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."

Renewed vigor

The initial response has been very promising, with both KROQ-FM (106.7) and Indie 103.1 FM spinning the lead single. The band's Wiltern LG show Monday night sold out in a matter of minutes.

Manson says the enthusiasm has been rewarding, but for the band the accomplishment came first in finishing the album, and second in crafting a record the members could be proud of.

"It's very gratifying after everything that we went through to know that we stuck together and now have been able to enjoy the fruits of that effort," Manson said in a separate interview. "Even before we released it to radio, we all felt really good, and we all said to each other, 'No matter what happens, it was worth it cause we're proud of this record that we made together.' "

Both Vig and Manson expect the group's renewed vigor to carry over when they return to the stage after more than three years.

"It's going to be really intense for us to play together just bearing in mind everything that we went through," Manson said. "Particularly bearing in mind how close we were to not really honoring what we have together as a band and washing it all down the toilet."

*

Garbage

Where: The Wiltern LG, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Price: $36

Info: (213) 380-5005

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