2007 / Music

Review: Marilyn Manson’s New Disc Feeds Off Of New Collaborator

Infamous Shock-Rocker Returns With New, Streamlined Disc

You know what’s really scary about Marilyn Manson? The headline-grabbing shock-rocker has had a successful music career for 10 years now.

Photo: Nothing Records/Interscope Records

Photo: Nothing Records/Interscope Records

It was way back in 1997 that Manson first seduced us with his gore-tastic, Nietzsche-spewing stage persona and Nine Inch Nails-influenced goth-metal sound. Highly theatrical records like “Mechanical Animals” and “Antichrist Superstar” sold in the millions and positioned Manson as the figurehead for metal’s new generation, securing him as the creepy spokesman for suburban teen disaffection every time there’s a school shooting.

But it hasn’t been his disturbing visage, satanic suggestions or his malevolent, vicious music alone that should give listeners a collective fright. It’s his unnatural, enduring appeal. After all these years, while contemporary macho-metal cousins like Limp Bizkit have justly faded from the scene, Manson is still a vampiric figure in pop culture. Each time we thought it was time to bury him along with his mostly derivative music and silly stage guise, Manson has resurfaced like an undying monster. His new album, “Eat Me, Drink Me,” is yet another resurrection, thanks in no small part to a musical partnership that’s finally coming into its own.

Manson’s cleverness is the secret behind his resilience. Beneath the makeup and the holier-than-thou philosophy lessons, there’s a singular intelligence guiding his career. His insightful knowledge of the music world comes from his membership in a select fraternity of ex-rock critics-turned-performers and he’s arguably the most commercially successful of the bunch. (Patti Smith, her guitarist Lenny Kaye, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan all once were music journos too.) As a student of rock, Manson — then known as unintimidating Brian Warner — wasn’t only taking notes for his next reviews in a Florida newspaper, but also storing up ideas for an act. He designed Marilyn Manson’s music to appeal stylistically to the metal underground yet cross over to geeks and jocks alike just as Kiss had once done. At the center of his performance, he formulated a frenzied persona in the mold of Alice Cooper that was tailored to invite outrage.

Being a smart guy, however, doesn’t necessarily make Manson a great songwriter. Since his debut, Manson shrewdly relied on a musical accomplice to midwife his songs bulging with heavy guitar and messages of hyper-individuality dressed up in macabre imagery. Like godfathers of metal Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne before him, Manson cultivated a brand in the metal community so prominent that he can attract talent seeking a break. This allowed Manson to recruit his new musical collaborator — ex-KMFDM multi-instrumentalist Tim Skold — to revitalize a career that in recent years was finally starting to shrivel.

The partnership with Skold had a slow start. Already hurting from soft sales for 2000’s “Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death),” Manson conceived his next disc as a hybrid approach that would combine elements of electronica and industrial music with a Germanic cabaret vibe. “The Golden Age of Grotesque” was an epic failure on nearly all counts. The subsequent release of a greatest-hits album was yet another signal that the sun was beginning to set on Manson’s career. And yet, he wouldn’t give up.

With their backs against the wall, Manson and Skold pulled a Rocky for his new record, “Eat Me, Drink Me.” Skold arranges it so the album streamlines Manson’s musical milieu and emphasizes a combination of obvious melodic hooks with catchy riffs and hard-hitting instrumental sequences. Each track’s aim is to be a radio hit and it’s surprising how often the pair yields a promising candidate. The record is Manson’s strongest and most consistent collection since the “Mechanical Animals” years. As an unintended bonus, Manson’s image remains so aggressively provocative that he’s almost immune to accusations of being a sell-out even when it’s clearly the goal. Artistic integrity isn’t a trait that you’d seek out in such a theatrical performer. Clever, right?

This idea further comes in handy when Manson and Skold appear to borrow heavily from their musical peers. Opening track “If I Was Your Vampire” owes an obvious debt to Maynard James Keenan and Tool. A mysterious guitar motif (think of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”) guides the moody melody until the song expands to gargantuan proportions during the chorus. With the rumble coming from the blaring guitar and bass and a smashing drum pattern, Manson’s wailing and then studio-tweaked falsetto bear more than a passing resemble to Keenan’s passionate, vocal dexterity. The Tool connection is further cemented by a ragga-like guitar countermelody that shadows Manson’s vocals. Something this potent and expressive is completely unexpected given Manson’s track record.

The same is true for the record’s first single, “Heart-Shaped Glasses (When The Heart Guides The Hand),” which sounds like an homage to New York neo-New Wavers Interpol. Skold’s percussive guitar riffs, the martial drumming and A Flock of Seagulls keyboards create a propulsive groove that energize Manson’s bellowing vocals. He also deserves points for the double entendre lyrics that are grossly lecherous but also redeeming in their playfulness: “I don’t mind you keeping me on pins and needles/If I could stick to you and you stick me too.” The song’s charms make it hard to resist.

“You And Me And The Devil Make 3” tries very hard to co-opt the sonic trademarks of Manson’s old mentor Trent Reznor and successfully steals his thunder. This is a Nine Inch Nails track in all but name. There’s infectious drumming, a menacing array of keyboards and rude, squawking guitar — fragments all duplicated from songs on “The Downward Spiral.” Manson and Skold even throw in some Reznor-esque, disturbing guitar squiggles in the background of the song to create an unsettling feeling and prove his admiration extends into the minutia of Reznor’s music.

Riffs are metal’s common currency and here too, Skold doesn’t try to cover up where he came up with the goods. The sluggish licks on “Are You The Rabbit?” are obvious nods to Sabbath and Soundgarden. More unusual is the opening riff from “They Said That Hell’s Not Hot,” which appears to take notes from tunes penned by Los Angeles psychedelic band Love during its hard-rock period. All together, the tracks are a carrot to metalheads looking for pure a sonic assault.

In borrowing so explicitly, Skold implicitly recognizes another of Manson’s strengths: Manson is a popularizer, not an innovator. The singer knows how to feed off others and then repurpose the best parts for his ghoulish but purposefully tamer music. Manson delays the audience’s recognition of all this by cloaking it in his strident, everyday-is-Halloween shtick. He looks, acts and sings so different from every other performer that some listeners might not immediately notice the similarities between his songs and old classics by Bauhaus and Throbbing Gristle.

Its sources identified, “Eat Me, Drink Me” is an unexpectedly strong record and one that should allow Manson to continue haunting us for the near future. It reaffirms Manson’s faith in Skold and the productivity of their musical union. The record also reasserts the continuing viability of Manson’s well-honed image. Once again, the album further defers the inevitable.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2007 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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