When one singer leaves their original band to join another & wind up having much larger success than before, it can leave that previous group in the dust to be forgotten for all time. But in the case of Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson, her old band Angelfish had just as much potential and talent to make it on their own before Garbage's future members saw the band's video on MTV, and at last found their frontwoman. As Shirley went on to multiplatinum glories with Garbage, Angelfish's self-titled 1993 debut (and only album) still stands alone as its own singularly fine work.
Stylistically, ANGELFISH leans more towards Garbage's 1995 self-titled debut with its more guitar-based rock textures than the highly-polished techno flourishes of 1998's VERSION 2.0 & 2001's BEAUTIFULGARBAGE. This is mostly thanks to the producership of husband-and-wife duo Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth (both formerly of Talking Heads). In fact, ANGELFISH could be in the vein of the Heads' first album from before Brian Eno was brought into commercialize them. In any event, ANGELFISH is a rocking good time displaying all the qualities that would help make Shirley's work with Garbage such a rousing success.
Charging out of the gates at the beginning is the sexy, glam-rock come-on of "Dogs In A Cage". David Bowie would have given his eyeteeth for a song like this in his DIAMOND DOGS days, but Shirley is just as alluring in her come-on. Who knew that such a dark, yet strangely inviting Scottish lass like Shirley could be so seductive?
The rock continues on a cover of Holly & The Italians' "You Can Love Her" (love that drum intro), "King Of The World" (who said a female singer has to use "queen" in the title), and "Mummy Can't Drive" (this is a woman you may not want to bring home to the parents). While Shirley may have been the obvious breakout star of the group, Angelfish the band are given ample opportunities to shine on these revved-up ditties. Frantz & Weymouth must have told the group to just play live & not let overdubs get in the way, hence the raw, ballsy performance they give to these tunes.
However, ANGELFISH is mostly an album somber in mood & slinky in its instrumentation. "Suffocate Me" is another song that is so flat-out sexy, it's a wonder that it can come off that way in the cool & detached (but no so much to forsake all emotion) voice of Shirley. "Heartbreak To Hate", "Tomorrow Forever" & "The End" have her & Angelfish turning out goodbye ballads that even at their most Bic-lighter-waving moments have enough volume to place them above sappiness. On the other hand, my favorite song off the album "Sleep With Me" follows that method of slow-and-steady-wins-the-race, but with a much happier outcome in the end. Deep down inside, Shirley just might look an ice queen on the outside, but it doesn't take much to melt her facade to get to the heart of gold.
ANGELFISH may not have set the charts on fire with its release, but it apparently did well enough for a video to reach MTV & catch the eyes of the members of Garbage, in need of an eyecatching frontperson to take them to the top. Better yet, while most famous musicians' pre-fame groups may worth mentioning for curiosity issues, Shirley Manson & Angelfish happily turned out an album that had all the potential to being a breakout success in itself.
Hopefully, those music fans who have been won over by Garbage's body of work will seek out Angelfish's lone album to see that Shirley Manson not only had talent to spare beforehand, but with a group that could best be described as Garbage with an extra dose of testosterone (apologies to Shirley). A liberal amount of production gloss may have boosted Garbage into the stratosphere, but Angelfish shows it could have succeeded on its raw talent alone had the public had wider-open ears.