Saturday, August 18, 2012

Album of the Day: Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals

Years before Lana Del Ray re-enacted the Zapruder film in a tasteless music video, Marilyn Manson did the same thing with a better actress for his song "Coma White."

If Antichrist Superstar was Marilyn Manson's Purple Rain, where he set out to make himself the Biggest Star on Earth, Mechanical Animals was his Sign 'o' the Times, where he reflected on the world from his throne. Hearkening to his hero, David Bowie, Manson reinvented himself as an alien rock star ("Omega and the Mechanical Animals") and depicted megastardom excess with surprising vulnerability. It sold about half of what Antichrist Superstar did, and was therefore the last bold artistic statement that he would make. It's also the best record that he's ever released.

For the first time ever, Manson and his mainly interchangeable band had to prove that they could follow up a hit album, and that they didn't need producer Trent Reznor to do it. Thus, the band tried something completely different. Unable to market himself as an outcast after appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, Manson ditched Satan for Sci-Fi, coming up with a vague concept about alienated celebrity life.

The celebrity role becomes Manson--no matter how much he tours with Slayer, Marilyn Manson has always been a pop star. His first hit was a cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," but his finest homage to his synthpop heroes is his glamdustrial original "The Dope Show." Riding a beat unshamefully cribbed from Iggy Pop and Bowie's "Nightclubbing," Manson's acknowledges the temporary state of his place in the world: "They love you when you're on all the covers/When you're not then they love another."

Standing out amongst the record's glam throwbacks, "Rock is Dead" was futuristic enough to get played during the end credits of The Matrix. The "God is in the TV" rejoinder offers rewards as both statement and satire. I don't know what happened to guitarist Zim Zum, but his harmonics here leave Zakk Wylde's in the dust.

Manson wasn't the first rock star to sing about mo money mo problems, but he might have been the funniest. Usually a mediocre lyricist, Manson approached songwriting on Mechanical Animals with a sense of humor that he had lacked before, as heard on "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me.)" Not only is it the first and last good industrial funk song, it's Manson's greatest single, the feather in his prosthetic boobs.

Manson was right. Soon he was not on all the covers and we loved another. But if he ever makes another album this good, he might work his way back.


Illona said...

Looking at his videos it's easy to see the painter in him

Ben Apatoff said...

Good point--they've got the same bleached look to them.