Shirley Manson, Noir Ain’t Good for You!

Alternative rock for long has been dominated by rock bands that started out underground, but eventually became mainstream. With mainstream appreciation, alternative artists had to change their musical styles to suit the tastes of recording companies and that of growing audiences. This act of making people happy affected alternative music industry and many bands thus became commercialized and lost the flavour they were once loved for.

This is not to say that these alternative musicians aren’t without talent or that their music does not sound ‘great’ anymore. However, it reveals a darker truth about the recording industry, which is almost a fable now.

Record companies usually have held musicians to create music that is in harmony with the popular culture of that time, however alternative they may claim to be. Though this necessarily does not mean that recording companies are strictly against any creative outbursts that would not be commercially successful, it just creates a sort of barrier.

A notable example of record company coming in the way of a singer-song writer’s way was when Shirley Manson, Garbage‘s lead singer was dismissed by the record company as being ‘noir’. What Ms. Manson understood was that her music was dark, and quite impressive, but only after a while did she realize that the word ‘noir’ has negative connotations in a hypocritical industry.

Geffen, her record company wanted a pop hit and did not seem pleased with Shirley Manson’s noir solo music. Shirley Manson did what most self respecting artists would do; she refused to alter her style and stopped writing.

Shirley Manson became known during her days with Angelfish, after the single ‘Suffocate Me’ was released. She auditioned for Garbage and the band’s music has ranged from being experimental rock to stylish electronic music with distorted guitars. The band took a break after the success of ‘Bleed Like Me’ and a new album is apparently in the waiting room.

If being ‘noir’ was bad, it should be quite difficult for an artist like Shirley Manson, who has forever dealt with issues of human dichotomies and complexities. A desperate attempt to please the popular culture loving audiences may discourage even veterans like Shirley Manson. Her fans signed an online petition to get her record released. However, that has not bore any fruits until now, but could be an indication that people do love ‘noir’ music.

If ‘noir’ music did not find success in the popular culture, it perhaps is a fear to face the darkness present in humans, the dark force that people refuse to accept for that brings with it unacceptable anxieties. Freud would have said, record companies, popular cultures use many ego-defence mechanisms. ‘Noir’ music does not exist, but music that reveals human anxieties, worries, pain and negative effect does.


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  • Walid

    Very well written and rings very true with the current so-called ‘alternative’ scene. I HATE to nit pick but it was actually Steve Marker who saw Shirley in Angelfish and her working with Jack White, Corgan and Beck were internet rumours Shirley herself said. Nice work. Im now intrigued to check out your other articles.

    • Jaiyant Cavale

      The so-called alternative scene is manufactured by record companies, and stuff the market (yes, music sadly has a market and is commodified) with the artificial ‘noirness’. Musicians like Shirley Manson are forced to commercialize themselves in order to stay in ‘business’. I am so glad she stood up against the whole musical conveyor belt.

      It’s interesting how rumours spread over the net!

      Walid, pls do check out the site often, I promise there will be many more articles, news and reviews about alternative music. Feel at home here!