Garbage, Scala, London

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The Independent Culture

In recent weeks it has become de rigueur for big names to launch their new album with small dates in London. Last night, after club-sized shows by Beck and Moby, it was the turn of Garbage to show they're still alive and kicking in front of a modest but fanatical audience of 500.

In recent weeks it has become de rigueur for big names to launch their new album with small dates in London. Last night, after club-sized shows by Beck and Moby, it was the turn of Garbage to show they're still alive and kicking in front of a modest but fanatical audience of 500.

Ten years on from their debut, and three years since their last London gig, their singer, the Scottish siren Shirley Manson, still exudes star quality and sex appeal in equal measure, from the moment they launch into "Queer", the song that established their alternative credentials back in 1995. Garbage, having come close to a break-up in the three years since their last album, still rock. There's a sense that the band (like Moby and Beck) are at a crossroads in their career, after declining sales and non-musical problems - the drummer, Butch Vig, was in hospital for six months with hepatitis, and Manson's marriage recently broke up.

But they seem rejuvenated, and Manson has a supreme confidence on stage. Not for nothing do her older, American bandmates call her "the Queen" - tongues only slightly in cheeks, one imagines - for she presents a regal figure, commanding all before her. She even has a jewelled microphone-stand with which to toy.

Songs from their new album, Bleed Like Me, released next month, have a back-to-basics feel reminiscent of their self-titled debut - the one that defined their eclectic rock-pop sound with industrial edges, launched them on the road to 11 million album sales and made Manson a cover-girl.

Inexplicably insecure about her looks, and with a ready opinion on everything and everyone, including her history of self-harm, Manson has an assertive presence that has made her the idol of choice for every disturbed young indie girl with low self-esteem.

Tonight, hair freshly restored to its natural russet after a curious experiment in bleached-and-quiffed androgyny, Manson exudes that tantalising blend of strength and vulnerability that makes all the girls want to be like her and all the boys want to take her home. You suspect they would be eaten alive by the singer, who plays up to her vampish image in new songs such as "Bad Boyfriend" ("I've got something special for my bad boyfriend") and offers solace to troubled teens in "Bleed Like Me". Other songs, sticking to the formula of pulsing electronic elements behind crunchy guitars, sound influenced by her marriage breakdown, to judge by the pain and anger on display in "Why Do You Love Me?" and the rather more self-explanatory "It's All Over but the Crying".

But, of course, it's the oldies that get the crowd going. "Supervixen", with its regal command: "Bow down to me", and "Stupid Girl", driven by Vig's machine-gun drumming, deliver the audience into the palm of her hand. Manson, in a little black dress with black mascara and red lipstick, announces her manifesto in "Vow" - "I can't use what I can't abuse" - and runs through later hits such as "Paranoid" and "Push It", before raising the roof with "Only Happy When It Rains".

Brixton Academy, London, 9 June

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