Brian Warner (who is to Marilyn Manson what Deborah Harry is to Blondie – the perceived namesake and icon, regardless of democracy elsewhere) might have joined the ranks of journalism had he not pursued a more musical bent – sharing a fascination for Nine Inch Nails with his first accomplice Scott Putesky, better known as Daisy Berkowitz, and the cold glare of synthesiser music as evoked by the distant cool of Gary Numan and Soft Cell. On deciding to adopt stage aliases based around a macabre parlour game wherein one chooses a female superstar and serial killer dual persona, the two 20-year olds formed The Spooky Kids, adding Stephen Bier (Madonna Wayne Gacy) and Brad Stewart (Gidget Gein) with drummer Fred Streithorst (Sara Lee Lucas) bringing up the rear. Fusing darkness and brains with performance art and promotional shock tactics the more intriguing band name Marilyn Manson came to Trent Reznor’s attention and on joining his Nothing Records label work began on the far from folksy Portrait of an American Family, interesting for its arcane material if not its sonic impetus.
Blending Willy Wonka imagery with Gothic glee and venturing into experimental, graphic rock the new look MM – Twiggy Ramirez on bass and Ginger Fish percussion – unleashed Smells Like Children, ostensibly an EP despite its lasting nearly an hour. Dealing in the combined polarities of abuse and corruption this magnum opus contains their version of Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, very cleverly interpreted, and covers of Patti Smith and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Rock and roll spells now cast Marilyn Manson found themselves with a hit item but it’s second album proper Antichrist Superstar that does the trick. Spilling out the hits “The Beautiful People” and “Tourniquet” this New Orleans based metal masterpiece fused rock operatic structures to skewed hard-core riffs, triple guitars and even a touch of pan flute! It is a great place to start discovering the Marilyn Manson family. Reznor’s guiding hand is professional and deft and the sound is deadweight heavy. 1,900,000 Americans have since concurred and the Mexicans and Brits love it to bits.
Mechanical Animals (featuring a Diamond Dogs androgynous Marilyn cover) does pay a huge homage to David Bowie, circa 1973 but in “The Dope Show”, “Rock Is Dead”, “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)” and the almost wistful “Coma White” the band lays claim to its own life force and the disc will zoom straight to #1 on release. A huge noise in 1998, the music was backed up by Manson’s tour to promote his witty autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell. Satirising his own image to an extent and viewing himself as a Lucifer figure, evicted from heaven, Manson and the band’s second part of their triptych is a double platinum gem with co-producers Michael Beinhorn and Sean Bevan ensuring that they fulfil Bill Corgan’s advice – don’t just hint at it, go all the way, The LA Weekly called it one of the greatest albums of the decade and we can’t disagree.
As the title implies The Last Tour on Earth is a live capture and summary of their magnificent stage act 1998-1999 with “Get Your Gunn”, “Lunchbox”, “The Beautiful People” et al bolstering a five star epic with one new track “Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes” being nominated for Best Metal Performance Grammy in 2001. It should have won that as well.
The millennium album Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) was recorded in Death Valley, California and returns the sound to the abrasive industrial noise of before. Finding himself cast as a spokesman for alienation, and a household name in mainstream circles guaranteed to get right up certain noses, Mr Manson goes hell for leather here and nine million sales indicate he’s got followers for the fight ahead. Key tracks are “The Nobodies”, addressed to the perpetrators of the awful Columbine High School massacre of 1999, the Beatles/”Revolution” inspired “Disposable Teens” (the single was backed both by John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”: and The Doors incendiary “Five to One”) and the spoof sports anthem “The Fight Song”, a careful dissection of pumped up jock culture. More rave reviews ensue and we’d commend this for discovery, since fifteen years on it sounds more pertinent than ever.
The Golden Age of Grotesque (2003) took its time arriving; leading to speculation that Marilyn Manson himself was about to move into different pastures. He didn’t exactly but the theatricality does take a diversion into Weimar Republic themes and is smothered in burlesque imagery. One that separates opinion, Grotesque actually endures well with “mOBSCENE”, “(s)AINT” and “This is the New Shit” acting as breath-taking diatribes that imply we’re all in this nonsense together, so suck it up. Anyhow it went straight to the top of the chart, powered along by John 5’s virtuoso guitars and MM’s most strident vocalese to date.
New comers to the party could well investigate the greatest hits album Lest We Forget: The Best Of, a celebration, if that’s not a misnomer, of a decade packed with alt.post-industrial wonderment plus a fine version of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”.
Eat Me, Drink Me – very Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – deals with vampirism and Christianity with a side order of cannibalism thrown in for good measure. All good, clean fun. And just as certain snooty crits were questioning MM’s relevance, hey presto this disc whacks into hitherto unconquered markets – Estonia, Turkey and South Korea - while still doing the business in the UK and USA. Sometimes judged to be a farewell, since it was made by Manson with producer/co-writer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Skold, this Eat Me document is a fine thing and during “Putting Holes in Happiness” and “You and Me and the Devil Makes 3” sounds suspiciously classic. One for the cognoscenti, for sure.
The High End of Low is his last through Interscoope and it’s certainly a magic number 7, referencing Michael Powell’s The Edge of the World, Goya, and Nazi Germany and the selling of false hopes. It’s all summed up pretty well in ”Arma-goddamn-motherfuckin-geddon”, one of his angriest lyrics, and the ostensibly down home nightmare “We’re from America”. Political and polemical as ever, the faithful were delighted to hear the old quartet mood again and a whiplash taste of glam rock to boot.
While sales still stood up to scrutiny Manson decided to move to a different outlet thereafter but he’s left us with a fabulous body of work and even as he hits 46 our hero is making grand music – see the recent The Pale Emperor.
In many ways the man Marilyn has been vindicated by time – he is a significant character actor in rock circles, quite entitled to stand next to older heroes like Alice Cooper and the venerable Ziggy. He’s also pulled off the not inconsiderable trick of attaining mainstream success and acclaim while retaining a cult figurehead status. Brian Warner would be proud of him. Discover Marilyn Manson – go on, we dare you.
Words: Max Bell
Boasting a fuller sound and a more focused sense of purpose, Antichrist Superstar is a substantial improvement on Marilyn Manson's debut album, Portrait of an American Family. The band draws equally from schlock metal, progressive metal, new wave, goth rock, and industrial rock, and with the help of producers Trent Reznor and Dave Ogilvie, the group creates a boiling, mockingly satanic mess of guitars, synthesizers, and ridiculously "scary" vocals. Though the sonic details make Antichrist Superstar an intriguing listen, it's not as extreme as it could have been -- in particular, the guitars are surprisingly anemic, sounding like buzzing vacuums instead of unwieldy chainsaws. Even with that considered, Antichrist Superstar is an unexpectedly cohesive album from a silly shock metal band and will stand as Marilyn Manson's definitive statement.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In 2000, Marilyn Manson not only was recovering from his fans' rejection of Mechanical Animals, he was scarred from Columbine and, worst of all, he was no longer America's demon dog. What was Brian Warner to do, standing on such uneasy ground? As a smart man and savvy marketer, he knew that it was time to consolidate his strengths, blend Omega with Antichrist Superstar, and return with a harsh, controversial, operatic epic: a vulgar concept album to seduce his core audiences of alienated teens and cultural cops. The resulting album, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), is intended as the third part of the trilogy beginning with Antichrist Superstar, and its convoluted story line is fairly autobiographical, but the amazing thing isn't the story -- it's that he figured out to meld the hooks and subtle sonic shading of Mechanical Animals with the ugly, neo-industrial metallicisms of Antichrist. Consequently, it's easy to see this as the definitive Marilyn Manson album, since it's tuneful and abrasive. Then again, much of its charm lies in Manson trying so hard, perfecting details in the concept, lyrics, themes, production, sequencing, the tarot card parodies in the liner notes, the self-theft, the self-consciously blasphemous cover art. There's so much effort, Holy Wood winds up a stronger and more consistent album than any of his other work. If there's any problem, it's that Manson's shock rock seems a little quaint in 2000. Eminem's vibrant, surrealistic white-trash fantasias were the sound of 2000, while Marilyn Manson's rock operas, religious baiting, and goth gear are from an era passed. It's to Warner's credit as, yes, an artist that Holy Wood works anyway.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Timing is everything in pop music, and Marilyn Manson hit a zeitgeist in the mid-'90s with Antichrist Superstar, riding the post-alternative wave to the top of the charts with his dark, arty, industrial metal. He was a proud shock artist and a great interview, one of the few rockers of his time who stood his own against his attackers by offering articulate, informed counterarguments to their blustering rage. Like any shock rocker, though, the novelty wears thin fast, and what was once scary turns into self-parody. Manson, no stranger to rock history, attempted to circumvent this by turning quickly to the left with the glam-soaked Mechanical Animals, but in doing so he lost huge portions of his audience, and by the time he returned to scary industrial metal form on Holy Wood in 2000, he seemed out of date and few critics or fans paid attention. Three years later, he unleashed his fifth album, The Golden Age of Grotesque, and he still seemed out of step with the times, but there was a difference -- he sounded comfortable with that development. Also, by 2003, rock, particularly heavy metal, was in desperate need of artists with a grand vision and ambition, which Manson has in spades. After all, The Golden Age is designed to be a modern update of German art, vaudeville, and decadent Hollywood glamour of the '30s, all given a thudding metallic grind, of course. In an era when heavy rockers have no idea what happened in the '80s, much less the '30s, it's hard not to warm to this, even if his music isn't your own personal bag.
Musically, Manson isn't departing from his basic sound -- he's following through on the return to basics Holy Wood represented -- but his first self-production has resulted in an album that feels light and nimble, even though it's drenched in distortion and screams. It feels as if Manson now feels liberated from not being consistently in the spotlight, and his music has opened up as well. With that new freedom, he gets silly on occasion -- the gibberish on the ridiculously titled "This Is the New Sh*t," the appropriation of Faith No More's "Be Aggressive" for "mOBSCENE," the lyric "You are the church/I am the steeple/When we f*ck we are God's People" -- but instead of knocking the record off track, they are part of the big picture on this oversized album. What matters here, as it always does on a Marilyn Manson album, is the overarching concept, and while The Golden Age of Grotesque has some kind of theme, its particulars aren't discernible, but the overall feeling resonates strongly. This messy, unruly, noisy burlesque may fall on its face, but it puts itself in the position where it can either stand or fall, and, unlike in the past, Manson isn't taking himself so seriously that he sounds stiff. It all adds up to a very good album -- maybe not his best, and certainly not one that will attract the most attention, but it's a hell of a lot grander than what his peers are producing, and holds its own with his previous records. It's also a bit more fun, too, and that counts for a lot.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
It's been a long time since Marilyn Manson truly seemed like a transgressive force, but when you spend a lifetime crafting a persona as a rock & roll boogeyman, it's not only hard to shake that image, it's unlikely that you'd want to shake it. Manson has never shown any indication that he's wanted to change, which somehow came as a surprise to his betrothed, burlesque diva Dita Von Teese, who according to published reports in the wake of their divorce seemed shocked, shocked that Manson wanted to stay up late and take drugs, the kind of eternally adolescent behavior that only rock & roll stars can get away with as they approach 40. Better for Marilyn to sever that marriage and turn toward a true teenager: Evan Rachel Wood, the blandly pretty star of Thirteen who provided MM with a brand-new muse for Eat Me, Drink Me, his sixth studio album. Frankly, Manson probably needed something to shake up his music, which started to become comfortably predictable in the wake of his popular/creative peak of Mechanical Animals, but the stab at soul-baring on Eat Me might not have been the way to do it. But Manson is such a true believer in rock & roll mythos that he's wound up embracing the cliché of the post-divorce confessional album, peppering this album with songs about broken relationships and new love. Personal songs are unusual for Manson, but that doesn't mean he's abandoned his tendency to write about grand concepts. The difference is that this time around, Manson himself is the grand concept -- there's no excursions into neo-glam or decadent German glamour -- which may give him a lyrical hook, but not a musical one. On a sonic level this is a bit of Manson-by-numbers -- all his signatures are in place, from the liberal appropriations of Diamond Dogs to the cheerful immersion in dirges and his tuneless vampire drone -- but it feels as if his usual murky menace has lifted, with the music sounding clearer, less affected, and obtuse, while still retaining much of its gothic romanticism and churning heaviness. If anything, Eat Me is a bit too transparent, as its clean arena rock production -- all pumped up on steroids, devoid of much grit -- makes the album sound safe, a bit too close to Manson cabaret for comfort, especially when he's penning songs whose very titles feel like unwitting self-parodies ("If I Was Your Vampire," "You and Me and the Devil Makes 3," "They Said That Hell's Not Hot"), or when he lazily spews out profanity as the chorus to "Mutilation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery." These are the moments where Manson seems like the eternal teenager, unwilling and unable to grow up, and they provide a bitter ironic counterpoint to the rest of the record, where he is striving for an emotional honesty he's never attempted before. Put these two halves together, and Eat Me, Drink Me becomes an intriguing muddle, an interesting portrait of Manson at the cusp of middle-age melancholy even if as sheer music it's the least visceral or compelling he's ever been.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Antichrist Superstar performed its intended purpose -- it made Marilyn Manson internationally famous, a living realization of his fictional "antichrist superstar." He had gained the attention of not only rock fans, but the public at large; however, many critics bestowed their praise not on the former Brian Warner, but on Trent Reznor, Manson's mentor and producer. Surely angered by the attention being focused elsewhere, he decided to break from Reznor and industrial metal with his third album, Mechanical Animals. Taking his image and musical cues from Bowie, Warner reworked Marilyn Manson into a sleek, androgynous space alien named Omega, à la Ziggy Stardust, and constructed a glammy variation of his trademark goth metal. With pal Billy Corgan as an unofficial consultant and Soundgarden producer Michael Beinhorn manning the boards, Manson turns Mechanical Animals into a big, clean rock record -- the kind that stands in direct opposition to the dark, twisted industrial nightmares he painted with his first two albums. It can make for a welcome change of pace, since his glammed-up goth is more tuneful than his clattering industrial cacophony, but it lacks the cartoonish menace that distinguished his prior music. And without that, Marilyn Manson seems a little ordinary, believe it or not -- more like a '90s version of Alice Cooper than ever before. True, Mechanical Animals is the group's most accessible effort, but Manson should have remembered one thing -- demons are never that scary in the light.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Coming up screaming from the depths of Florida -- there being no scarier state in the union -- Marilyn Manson cannily positioned themselves as a goth-industrial hybrid on their debut album, Portrait of an American Family. At this stage in their evolution, Marilyn Manson was clearly a band, not just the project of Brian Warner, aka Mr. Manson, who would later simply adopt his band's name as his own. Also, horror-show schlock was a bigger factor than it would be later on, when he wanted to be the Antichrist Superstar for the world at large. In other words, it's Manson at his silliest, singing about "My Monkey" and "Snake Eyes and Sissies." Beneath all the camp shock, there are signs of Warner's unerring eye for genuine outrage and musical talent, particularly on the trio of "Cake and Sodomy," "Lunchbox," and "Dope Hat." But even a few years on from its 1994 release, Portrait of an American Family began to sound a little dated, especially since its Nine Inch Nails-meets-W.A.S.P.-meets-Alice Cooper formula was fully realized on Manson's follow-up album, Antichrist Superstar. Here, it's in sketch form, and by the end of the album it's clear that Warner, Manson, whatever you want to call him, needs a full canvas to truly wreak havoc.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Back when Mechanical Animals entered the charts at number one, it seemed like the world belonged to Marilyn Manson. Not only did he have the most popular album in the country, but he was everywhere -- magazine covers, op-ed pieces, TV shows, gossip columns, award ceremonies, film cameos, even the radio. There was also talk of a feature film, starring none other than himself. All gave the impression that Mechanical Animals was a colossus, which wasn't necessarily accurate. Yes, it was a number one album that went platinum, but after "The Dope Show," it didn't generate any big alt-rock hits, and more importantly, it didn't play all that well with Manson's core audience, who were more interested in goth angst than a glossy glam fantasia. Perhaps Manson would have been able to kick up some support if he didn't court controversy throughout the album's supporting tour. While it earned him endless headlines, particularly when his feud with touring partner Courtney Love went up in smoke, it didn't quite translate into sales. Instead, it resulted in Marilyn fatigue. It didn't matter what Manson did, even if he was (ridiculously) blamed for something as horrific as the April 1999 school massacre at Columbine; people just didn't care anymore -- they were sick of having him to kick around. Perhaps that's why The Last Tour on Earth, the live souvenir from the ill-fated Mechanical Animals, was released to little fanfare in November 1999: Nobody was interested anymore. If The Last Tour on Earth was supposed to recapture their interest, it's hard to see how. Live albums rarely play to a mass audience, and this one appeals to a particularly specialized audience, capturing not only an artist adrift, but also documenting aurally a primarily visual experience. Marilyn Manson's records are usually extremely well-crafted, filled with revealing sonic details, but he disregards his attention for minutiae in concert, choosing to concentrate on spectacle. This means more time spent on dazzling visuals than on new arrangements for the songs, and that's not a bad thing -- Manson is nothing if he isn't an agent provocateur. His shows should be an overwhelming visual experience. There's also really no call for drastically new or reinvented versions of "The Reflecting God," "The Beautiful People," or "Irresponsible Hate Anthem," since they serve as the soundtrack for the sights. That's not to dismiss a very good, tight band, but Marilyn Manson in concert is certainly about the experience, not the music. As such, it's hard to see the purpose of The Last Tour on Earth. There are no discernible differences between the stage and studio versions of these songs, apart from rougher vocals and slightly more immediate sound. Unlike many live albums, there isn't much visceral energy here, possibly because the music had to be fairly regimented to coincide with the visuals. Apart from the crowd noises and Manson's on-stage ramblings, it's hard to tell that this is a live album based on the recordings themselves. Thus, it's not really necessary for anyone but diehards who want every Manson recording, regardless of quality. And given that part of what made Manson's three studio albums interesting were their studio origins, even the diehards might be disappointed. Each record was impeccably crafted, relying as much on studio trickery as songcraft, and that's why they were hits. Stripped of that, the music is less interesting -- it doesn't really collapse without the studio support, but given a choice, it's hard to see why anybody would put on Last Tour. Those who are intrigued with Manson's rambling, of course, might be an exception, considering that there's a certain fascination in hearing him act like a sober Jim Morrison, trying to get his audience to yell "motherf*cker" and winding up with an incoherent "Maoohahfuer," or relating his spellbinding vision of a dream world, where the land is made of drugs, cops give Mr. Manson head, and God is spelled "D-R-U-G-S." It's even funnier when you realize these rants were delivered, by name, to the Midwestern off-markets of Grand Rapids, MI, and Cedar Rapids, IA.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
A year on from Portrait of an American Family, Marilyn Manson released the stopgap EP Smells Like Children. Where the full-length debut showed sparks of character and invention beneath industrial metal sludge, Smells Like Children is a smartly crafted horror show, filled with vulgarity, ugliness, goth freaks, and sideshow scares. Manson wisely chose to heighten his cartoonish personality with the EP. Most of the record is devoted to spoken words and samples, all designed to push to the outrage buttons of middle America. Between those sonic collages arrives one new song, retitled remixes of Portrait songs -- "Kiddie Grinder," "Everlasting Cocksucker," "Dance of the Dope Hats," "White Trash" -- and three covers ("Sweet Dreams," "I Put a Spell on You," "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger"), all given a trademark spooky makeover. Musically, it may not amount to much -- it's goth-metal-industrial, as good as the "Dope Hat," "Lunch Box," and "Cake and Sodomy" trilogy that distinguished the debut -- but as a sonic sculpture, as an objet d'art, it's effective and wickedly fascinating. It's exactly what Brian Warner needed to do to establish Marilyn Manson as America's bogeyman for the late '90s. [And it also helped enhance his myth for his fans. Smells Like Children originally was released promotionally, complete with unauthorized Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory samples and other unapproved sound bites. It was pulled, censored, and re-edited ("Abuse, Pt. 1" and "Abuse, Pt. 2" were removed from the EP) before it was officially released in October 1995, and the original promo copies became valuable collectibles and the most bootlegged item in the Manson catalog.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Remember when everybody was afraid of Marilyn Manson and Eminem? Then it turned out Detroit's white king of rap was a celebrity-obsessed one-liner machine with a pathetic array of mommy issues, and Florida's homegrown Satan went through a bad breakup and released 2007's weepy (relatively speaking) Eat Me, Drink Me. Now, on The High End of Low, Manson is trying to regain his dark throne once more, and frankly, it's unlikely to work. The track titles read like Manson-by-numbers: "Pretty as a Swastika," "Arma-godd**n-motherf**kin-geddon," "I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies," "I Have to Look Up Just to See Hell," and perhaps the most unwittingly revelatory, "We're from America." This album marks the return of former bassist Twiggy Ramirez to the band, but as ever the Manson personality/persona towers over everything else, and his two or three musical ideas are repeated throughout the disc, with only a few exceptions. It doesn't help that he's never even tried to become a technically proficient vocalist; his desultory croon and hoarse shriek are the same as they've been since the early '90s. There are a few catchy riffs here, and a nice tone on "Blank and White," but lyrics like "If you touch me I'll be smeared/You'll be stained for the rest of your life" (from "Leave a Scar") and "Everyone will come to my funeral to make sure that I stay dead" (from "Four Rusted Horses") feel like he's trying to convince himself as much as the audience. The album's middle stretch is a hard slog, with the six-and-a-half minute "Running to the Edge of the World" followed by the nine-minute "I Want to Kill You..." The former is a Bowie-esque ballad/epic (acoustic guitar, strings) that could have been great if it had only been two minutes shorter, while the latter is a one-riff trudge that never builds up any momentum. The aggressive "We're from America" has bursts of lyrical wit, but when your opening line, "We're from America where we eat our young," is cribbed from Funkadelic circa 1972, you're pretty much advertising that you're out of ideas.
Words: Phil Freeman
It's rather ironic that Marilyn Manson, an artist who kept the idea of the concept album alive during the '90s, turns out to have a greater impact as a singles artist, as the 17-track hits compilation Lest We Forget: The Best of Marilyn Manson illustrates. While each of his post-Portrait of an American Family LPs were designed to be heard as a whole, their singles unfailingly distilled the attitude and ideas behind the individual albums to their catchy core. Yes, catchy -- at his best, Marilyn Manson had a knack for a heavy, glammy hook, the kind that's hard to get out of your head, no matter how hard you try. Not every single had a great hook -- "Tourniquet" is a moody dirge, indicative of what awaits a listener on the album tracks -- but the best of them did, whether it was "Lunchbox" from the debut, the delirious "The Beautiful People," the glam-stomp of "The Dope Show," or the Faith No More homage "mOBSCENE." All these are here, but Lest We Forget doesn't have all the hits -- charting singles "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)" and "Rock Is Dead" are conspicuously missing, as are video hits like "Dope Hat," "Man That You Fear," and "Coma White." These omissions are curious, considering that album tracks and covers are used as substitutions. Nevertheless, it has enough of the hits to make this worthwhile for the casual fans, as well as those listeners who never wanted to admit that these late-'90s alt-rock radio staples were guilty pleasures. [Lest We Forget was also released as a limited-edition set, featuring a bonus DVD containing all the music videos Manson released during the '90s.]
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine