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Marilyn Manson’s New (Happy) Face

With his upcoming album, ‘Mechanical Animals,’ America’s favorite shock rocker goes from gloom to glam

“That’s disgusting,” says Marilyn Manson, standing inside the
Burbank, California, studio where he’s working on the final mixes
of his band’s third album, Mechanical Animals. Before him is a
mock-up of the new album’s cover – a photo of the pasty, emaciated
singer naked, with prosthetic breasts, hands with six fingers and a
groin that’s been airbrushed into smooth androgyny. It’s the
embodiment of all things that aren’t natural. Things that aren’t
meant to be. Things that offend Wal-Mart.

But it’s not the album cover that disgusts Manson. Rather, it’s
a photo nearby – one that pictures his bassist, Twiggy Ramirez,
mugging for the camera like a post-mortem supermodel. Manson picks
up the photo, grimaces and zeros in on the problem. “Look at all
that underarm hair!” he says. “Couldn’t he have shaved?” Even
Marilyn Manson has his standards.

Clearly, those standards are shifting. In his latest
incarnation, Manson has traded his customary rotting-corpse chic
for a glam look – today he arrives at the studio in custom-made
lace-up leather pants, chunky platform boots that Baby Spice would
covet and a synthetic long-sleeved shirt with a Star Trek-like
pattern across the chest. His old favorite nail polish, Urban Decay
blue, has been replaced by an unhip shade of suburban-mom coral,
and his thin, straight hair has gone from black to a lovely
crimson. In an even bigger step from gloom to glam, Manson has
moved to Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon, once home to Jim Morrison, Jimi
Hendrix and many other notable leather-pants-clad debauchees.

“This whole past year, my house has become a real Hollywood
Babylon, Studio 54 type of place,” Manson says, carefully pushing
the stringy hair off his face. “It’s a magnet for the
where-are-they-nows and the we-know-where-they-are-nows and the
they’re-not-doin’-real-good-nows. I started a project – usually at
about six or seven in the morning – of taking these unlikely
individuals and putting them together to sing karaoke in my living
room. So at any given moment, you may have found Leif Garrett or
Corey Feldman singing the theme from Grease. I’ve also been
painting these ten-minute portraits. Sometimes I trade them for
drugs, so there’s a lot of portraits of drug dealers going around
town.”

Mechanical Animals reflects Manson’s self-proclaimed new
“glitterati” lifestyle. On the album, shimmering, flamboyant guitar
grooves and strong melodic hooks replace the post-industrial grind
of previous records, and his lyrics trade the topic of teen
satanism for drug-addled space themes and sci-fi love stories. The
fourteen-track album is also Manson’s first without the aid of
producer and mentor Trent Reznor.

“People probably expect us not to be able to function without
the heavy hand of Trent,” says Manson. “Not that I have a chip on
my shoulder or need to prove something, but I think this record
establishes that we have our own musical identity without someone
telling us what to do.”

As a result, there are fewer computer effects and little of the
pummeling aggression that fueled 1996’s Antichrist Superstar. “I’m
bored with that,” says Manson, caressing the large plastic ring on
his finger, a mound of lacquer encasing a gold wasp. “Everything
you hear nowadays is an offshoot of NIN, Marilyn Manson, Ministry.
There’s just no great rock albums anymore. There’s a lot of rock
music out there, but it’s very bland and disposable. A lot of
people may say this record is over the top, pretentious and
theatrical, but that’s what rock music is supposed to be
about.”

As he plays songs from Mechanical Animals, Manson pulls out a
sheet of lyrics, thumbing through the pages like a patient
grade-school teacher. “We’re right here,” he points out, directing
attention to the lyrics to “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs
Like Me).” The song is a cacophony of voices chanting the title on
top of guitar work by Dave Navarro. As on most of the album, Manson
sings his lines rather than hissing or shrieking them, and,
surprisingly, he sounds pretty good. With the sultry vibe of T.
Rex’s Marc Bolan, he croons, “You were my mechanical bride/You were
phenobarbidoll/A manniqueen of depression/With the face of a dead
star.” He even sings brokenhearted love songs – like “Speed of
Pain,” which includes the line, “Just remember, when you think
you’re free/The crack inside your fucking heart is me.”

“There is a bit of a love story that exists on this record,”
Manson admits. “The name I gave to the thing I was in love with was
Coma White. It starts as the name of a girl I’m in love with, then
ends up to really be a drug I’ve been taking. So I’m not really
sure what I’m in love with.”

Though he initially considered asking the Dust Brothers to
co-produce the album, and Billy Corgan visited the studio, Manson
ultimately chose Michael Beinhorn for the job. Beinhorn produced
Soundgarden’s Superunknown and recently finished Hole’s Celebrity
Skin. “He had quite a handful going from Courtney [Love] to me,”
says Manson with a smirk. “I went with him ’cause he was rock &
roll. But Billy did inspire us to take a chance. We played him the
first couple of songs and he said, ‘This is definitely the right
direction, but if you’re gonna do this, go all the way with it.
Don’t just hint at it.’ And that gave me the incentive. He’s like a
big brother, sort of.”

Manson’s advice-seeking from unlikely allies like Corgan caused
rumors about the musical direction of his new album. “A lot of
people thought this record was gonna be techno,” Manson says. “A
rumor even leaked out that I had used R&B singers [he did use
Niki Harris, Madonna’s longtime backup singer, on one track], so
people were concerned that I was going in a rap direction.”

The most noteworthy gossip surrounding the album, however,
regards the departure of Manson’s guitarist, Zim Zum. “We had
problems with him not showing up, and I took that as an insult,”
Manson explains. “That’s just the way I am. My feelings are, if
you’re gonna lead a rock & roll lifestyle, don’t let it affect
your work. I know I can stay up all night and still come in the
next day and write a song, and nothing will stop me from doing it.
I expect the same from everyone else.

“If you’re gonna pretend to be something,” he adds, “then you
have to at least live up to what it is.”

In This Article: Marilyn Manson

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