What do politicians, religious leaders, rap-metal fans, right-wingers, jaded goths, homophobes and parents everywhere have in common? They all want to see our era's most willing hate magnet, Marilyn Manson, disappear up his own overexposed, underclothed butt. It takes God-given talent or a near-Satanic knack for provocation to unite such a disparate crowd, and Manson, no longer merely freak of the week, knows it's time he either prove he's got both or get out of the game.
Holy Wood describes how a rock star/icon can be shot down by the pressures of fame, government, religion and greed. Manson has told this story twice before: Holy Wood, like his upcoming novel, is intended to be the glue between the drastically improved songcraft of '98's glam-minded Mechanical Animals and '96's career-making industrial-metal Antichrist Superstar. This ain't the easiest route for a shockmeister: We expect him to scare up one startling new trick after the other, not elaborate on his established themes like a painter.
"I'm not a slave to a god that doesn't exist," he snarls with newfound fury in "The Fight Song," a three-minute encapsulation of Manson that spins on a tweaked guitar motif before giving way to crunching punk assault. The band truly rocks: Its malevolent groove fleshes out its leader's usual complaints with an exhilarating swagger that's the essence of rock & roll.
Co-producer Dave Sardy and programmer Bon Harris help create a blend of straightforward hard rock and contemplative studio sonics. After an LP side of speedy attention-getters, Holy Wood opens up into sinister dirges that evoke vintage Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath before returning to bleed eardrums with the pummeling "Born Again" and "Burning Flag." Then it slowly, bitterly slinks away, leaving a wake of crucifixes, bullets, dead presidents and "Disposable Teens."
On Holy Wood, Manson is as ambitious, personal and heavy as he's ever been, but the album is not, as he has proclaimed, the band's White Album. The music of these L.A. scenesters, though still evolving, can't hope to match the Beatles' level of eclectic experimentation or melodicism. But you have to respect Manson for addressing real-life issues with a theatrical verve and genuine vitriol that no other mainstream act can match. Holy Wood won't win converts, but its creator's commitment to fighting back at a society hell-bent on martyring him makes the self-indulgence universal. There's a little Manson in all of us. Or there should be.