The new Marilyn Manson disc, The Golden Age of Grotesque (Nothing/Interscope), marks the beginning of a new era for rockís most popular ghoul. Three years ago, he released Holy Wood (Nothing/Interscope), the final installment in a trilogy of concept albums that vividly chronicled his obsession with Christianity, celebrity, sex, and drugs. He hasnít completely changed his tune on Grotesque: those are still his favorite themes. But this time, the only concept is escapism.
" The album is called The Golden Age of Grotesque because this is an age that Iím trying to bring about, " Manson said recently on yahoo.com. " Take peopleís minds off the horribleness of whatís going on in the world. Let their imagination run wild. And art, I donít want it to be some painful thing that kids dread ó going to a museum on a field trip, and theyíd rather be at recess. My art is recess. "
On the discís first single, " mOBSCENE, " recess gets taken over by a group of cheerleaders spouting a typically mischievous Manson chant: " Be obscene, be be obscene/Be obscene, baby, and not heard. " Marilyn Manson the band back them up with a sultry strip-club grind that leaves room for some electronic beats but mostly emphasizes the rock. Addressing his disciples with a deranged murmur, Manson delivers a sermon of pure lust: " Bang we want it/Bang we want it/Bang bang bang bang bang. "
Like the rest of Grotesque, " mOBSCENE " is less about stylistic reinvention than it is about reaffirming what Manson does best: yelling inflammatory slogans over sexy, industrial-strength rock grooves. Problem is, in the five years since he hit #1 on the album charts with Mechanical Animals (Nothing/Interscope), his popularity has been steadily declining. He supported the scabrous, punked-up Holy Wood with a high-profile appearance at OzzFest 2001, but the disc still failed to reach gold status. Most recently, the band scored a novelty hit with a cover of the í80s classic " Tainted Love " and endured the departure of Mansonís long-time writing partner, bassist Twiggy Ramirez. Fans couldnít help thinking the end might be near.
But Manson regrouped: heíll be at OzzFest 2003 when it stops by the Tweeter Center in Mansfield in August, and Grotesque is probably the most accessible album heís made. Part of the credit goes to his reconfigured band, especially new bassist/producer Tim Skold. A Swedish native who got his start in the industry with the í80s pop-metal outfit Shotgun Messiah, Skold later caught the electronic bug and joined German industrial legends KMFDM. Already signed on to produce the disc when Ramirez left to join A Perfect Circle, he soon became a full-time member. The third piece of the songwriting puzzle is guitarist John 5, who did time with both Rob Halford and David Lee Roth before teaming up with Manson on Holy Wood. With long-time members M.W. Gacy (keyboards) and Ginger Fish (drums) also aboard, the bandís musicianship shines through the corpse paint.
By replacing Holy Wood collaborators Ramirez and D. Sardy (producer) with Skold, Manson has taken a conscious step away from the abrasive metal of his recent work in favor of a goth/rock hybrid reminiscent of the early albums he made with Trent Reznor. He opens the disc with the ambient instrumental " Theater, " but that quickly gives way to the sinister electro of " This Is the New Sh*t. " When John 5 somersaults in with a menacing guitar riff, Manson sets the albumís nihilistic tone with a shrieking punch line: " Stand up and admit, tomorrowís never coming. "
The gloom-and-doom lets up on " Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag " (as in, " Godmod grotesk burlesk drag " ), an upbeat sex jam that recalls the cyberglam chic of Mechanical Animals. Like " mOBSCENE, " it focuses on style over substance ó which is Mansonís clever way of preventing his albums from drowning in rhetoric. But he still has plenty to say, as the class-baiting anthem " Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth " attests. " This is the black-collar song/Put it in your middle finger and sing along, " he sings with righteous indignation over the bandís danceable sleaze.
Manson uses the middle of the album to explore the more personal and experimental sides of his writing ó occasionally, as on the carnival-beat nightmare " The Golden Age of Grotesque, " at the expense of both momentum and hooks. There are no love letters to his current flame, Playboy model Dita Von Teese, but the glam-hop diatribe " (S)aint " ó " Iíve got an F and a C and Iíve got a K too/And the only thing missing is a bitch like U " ó is presumably aimed at his ex, Hollywood starlet Rose McGowan. On the erotic thriller " Para-Noir, " he lashes out at a chorus of erstwhile sex partners while John 5 unleashes a torrent of guitar noise.
Grotesque comes back to earth on the rousing disco-metal workout " Slutgarden, " which features one of Mansonís all-time greatest perv metaphors: " You are the church, I am the steeple/When we fuck, weíre all Godís people. " Having exorcised his romantic demons, he concludes the album with a fine set of rockers that address both the trials of his own celebrity and the less glamorous problems of todayís disaffected youth. " Haters call me bitch, call me faggot, call me whitey/But I am something that youíll never be, " he howls on the Prodigy-style rave-up " Better of Two Evils. " In reality, his detractors are probably few and far between now that he has been exonerated for the Columbine tragedy, but his rage sounds as genuine as ever.
On " The Bright Young Things, " Mansonís teenage rebellion fantasies are almost overshadowed by the bandís chaotic riffing. He solves that problem on " Vodevil " (rhymes with " vaudeville " ) with the discís most passionate refrain: " This isnít music and weíre not a band/Weíre five middle fingers on a motherfucking hand. " Not even Eminem spends as much time singing about middle fingers as Manson does ó he might be repeating himself, but itís hard to argue with the trackís supercharged industrial-metal bile.
Profanity aside, Grotesque is about as strong a plea for airplay as Manson has in him. It sounds a lot like the Manson rock fans remember from his mid-í90s heyday, with sharper hooks and arrangements, and thereís no concept weighing it down. Still, the disc gets pretty self-indulgent in the middle, and the bandís brand of trashy electro-metal is not exactly all the rage at rock radio these days. Long-time fans wonít be disappointed, but donít count on this album to catalyze a full-scale Manson comeback.
MARILYN MANSON was still riding high on Mechanical Animals when he donated one of that albumís biggest hits, " Rock Is Dead, " to the soundtrack of The Matrix (Maverick/Warner Bros.), which echoed the filmís futuristic flair with a smart collection of industrial-leaning rock. Sporting several other hits by the likes of Rob Zombie, Deftones, and Rammstein, the disc went platinum as the movieís popularity exploded.
Manson, Zombie, and Deftones are all back on The Matrix Reloaded: The Album (Maverick/Warner Bros.), a key component of the marketing blitz surrounding the big multiplex event of the summer. Itís a two-disc set: disc #1 has all the rock and dance favorites from the movie, disc #2 the original score. The enhanced portion of disc #2 is also loaded with commercial tie-ins, including CD-ROM previews for the movie itself, the home video The Animatrix, and the video game Enter the Matrix.
If youíre wondering just how much any of this has to do with rock and roll, San Diego pop-metal heroes P.O.D. are here to answer your question. Not only is their " Sleeping Awake " the albumís lead single, but itís also their first new song since the mysterious departure of founding guitarist Marcos earlier this year. Already committed to The Matrix Reloaded, they quickly recruited new guitarist Jason Truby, who spent most of the í90s on the road with the Little Rock Christian-metal band Living Sacrifice. Turmoil aside, the spectral rocker " Sleeping Awake " picks up right where the bandís recent blockbuster, Satellite (Atlantic), left off. Frontman Sonny has been rhapsodizing about Zion in a religious sense for years, so he has no problem singing with similar fervor about the rebel city of the same name in the movie. As for Truby, his sharp ear for melody rivals his predecessorís, and that bodes well for the groupís future.
P.O.D.ís sci-fi slickness carries over to the rest of the rock acts on The Matrix Reloaded: The Album. Manson contributes " This Is the New Sh*t, " and Zombie provides comic relief on " Reload, " a kitschy electro-metal collaboration with Trent Reznor buddy Charlie Clouser. Deftones frontman Chino Moreno unveils his experimental side project Team Sleep with the dreamy instrumental " The Passportal " ; Deftones themselves show up with " Lucky You, " an eerie, quiet track from their homonymous new album on Maverick/Warner Bros.
Don Davis, who wrote the score for The Matrix, is back for the sequel with his sleek combination of orchestral minimalism and electronic fanfare. The highlight of the score is his collaboration with trance veterans Juno Reactor on " Burly Brawl, " the bombastic industrial/choral piece behind the filmís show-stopping fight scene. The barrage of marketing surrounding The Matrix Reloaded may be deafening, but the soundtrack remains both a solid compilation of the seasonís best new rock and a worthy companion to the movie.
Marilyn Manson perform at OzzFest 2003, at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, on Thursday August 14 and Friday August 15. Call (508) 339-2333.
Issue Date: May 23 - 29, 2003
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