Marilyn Manson

   Portrait of an American Family (Nothing/Interscope, 1994)
   Smells Like Children (Nothing/Interscope, 1995)
    Antichrist Superstar (Nothing/Interscope, 1996)
     Mechanical Animals (Nothing/Interscope, 1998)
   The Last Tour on Earth (Nothing/Interscope, 1999)
    Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)
(Nothing/Interscope, 2000)
   The Golden Age of Grotesque (Interscope, 2003)
    Lest We Forget: The Best Of — (Interscope, 2004)
   Eat Me, Drink Me (Interscope, 2007)
    The High End of Low — (Interscope, 2009)

With much of rock's transgressive allure and star power usurped by hip-hop in the Nineties, Marilyn Manson strapped on the bondage gear and got to work winning it back. The erstwhile Brian Warner's act is mild stuff by the standard set by most death-metal bands, but because he was among the best ever at packaging and marketing the genre, he became the raunch-peddling, storm-trooping inheritor of the shock-rock legacy pioneered by Alice Cooper and Kiss. As a publicity gambit, he succeeded in getting on the radar screens of offended religious leaders, government officials, and parents. Yet he also became a hero for alienated, high-school misfits. When the Columbine High-School massacre took place in April, 1999, Manson was targeted as an indirect instigator. He was swift to defend his violent horror-core aesthetic as art and he cemented his status as a spokesperson for misfit losers everywhere. "In my work I examine the America we live in, and I've always tried to show people that the devil we blame our atrocities on is really just each one of us," he said in 1999.

Manson's debut, Portrait of an American Family, overseen by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, isn't the sharply rendered cultural critique of America he'd like you to think it is. Most of the record comes off like some low-budget horror movie. Over thrashing guitars and other new-metal cliches, Manson proclaims himself "the god of fuck," gives shout outs to serial killers like Richard Ramirez and growls lines from "Willy Wonka." Smells Like Children offers more of the same: The disc is a collection of remixes, outtakes, and covers that includes a stomping remake of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," which improbably won Manson some loads of mainstream-radio and MTV airplay.

But Manson got ambitious with Antichrist Superstar, a concept album of sorts that positions Manson as a nihilistic cartoon version of Public Enemy No. 1. Mechanical Animals strips back the production just enough to let Manson's band establish a personality, and the result is an album that even well-adjusted adults might appreciate. Manson traded his Alice Cooper–goes-industrial sound for strutting glam rock, and his lyrics are motivated by satire rather than spite, especially on "The Dope Show," Manson's best song yet. Holy Wood is a goth-rock end-of-innocence saga. More melodramatic and bloated than its predecessor—and his lowest-charting album to date—it finds Manson actually trying to sing melodies while teeing off on his usual subjects: mass media, organized religion, and killing your parents. Exhaustion overtakes The Golden Age of Grotesque, in which Manson admits "everything's been said before" and so resorts to campy gibberish on the order of "Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag" and "Ka-Boom Ka-Boom." Newcomers would do best by the Best Of ("Lest We Forget") and the crisply recorded concert album The Last Tour on Earth, although the latter would've benefited from a DVD to capture the gory, trashy spectacle of his live shows.

In recent years, Manson's attempts to shock have become predictable: Even titling a song "Pretty as a Nazi" failed to generate the outrage it would've earlier in the decade. His music has also become relatively toned down. For Eat Me, Drink Me, which he recorded and produced in a home studio with the help of bandmate Tim Skold, Manson delivers mostly mid-tempo goth-ballads ("Putting Holes in Happiness") and icey dirges ("Eat Me, Drink Me") often powered by nothing more than drum-machines and electric guitars. The High End of Low maps similar terrain, from the acoustic ballad "Four Rusted Horses" to the amped-up, quasi-punk tune "We're From America." The one exception is "I Want To Kill You Like they Do In the Movies," in which Manson reveals that underneath his bondage-gear and face-paint, the dude can also be a heartbroken softie.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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