With Halloween coming up, I decided it would only be fitting to tackle controversial Industrial Metal group Marilyn Manson. Unfortunately, concert security had other ideas, so after a few weeks in the hospital, I decided it might be safer to review their music instead.
I suppose since they already have a trope page where you can read anything I'd have used to introduce them, I'll talk a little about why I'm doing this, beyond the fact that it's nearing Halloween and Marilyn Manson is allegedly spooky. This band were pretty much at the height of their popularity when I was fifteen and a would-be angsty alternative rocker, so of course I had Antichrist Superstar, but I was fickle enough to neither investigate his first album nor buy any of the ones to come. So I'm both finding out whether I'd still like the material I do know of theirs and finding out what they've done in the many years since I lost track of them beyond the occasional hit single.
This will be my first music liveblog to get split off from Let Us Now Listen, because there's just too much material to cover for it to clutter up that blog: eight studio albums, plus a live album, a Greatest Hits Album, various singles and EPs, plus one or two things I'll probably relegate to "bonus review" material. All in all I'm going to be listening to about twelve hours of their music over the course of the next several weeks.
Oh, also, if the title seems inscrutable to you, I'm conflating a few incredibly spurious rumors about Marilyn Manson himself.
Portrait Of An American Family (1994)
This is a bit more deliberately campy than later work, though that's not necessarily a bad thing: There's something of a theme of referencing "children's" films and television that evoke What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs? and Accidental Nightmare Fuel - "Prelude (The Family Trip)" is a recreation of the infamous boat ride scene in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, while "Dope Hat" of course features prominent samples from Lidsville and "Organ Grinder" samples The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Word of God is that this is part of a concept about how "as kids growing up, a lot of the things that we're presented with have deeper meanings than our parents would like us to see, like Willy Wonka and the Brothers Grimm". And these references, coupled by things like the horns and pitch-shifted vocal effects of "My Monkey" * do help give the album a bit of a different feel from other industrial metal of the time.
This album is at it's best when there's some catchy riffs and/or big, almost arena-metal-esque choruses mixed in with the abrasive sludge: "Dope Hat" uses the same kind of "Rock And Roll Part Two, except undead" rhythm that would show up in "The Beautiful People" to great effect, while "Lunch Box" has a perversely catchy chorus and is also notable for having the most prominent bass-line. When these two elements are mixed together, the effect is pretty bracing, so it's not surprising their mainstream breakthrough would come a year or so later. Unfortunately, a few songs don't really have either - tracks like "Cyclops" just seem to trudge along with nothing to offer beyond cool production tricks. Still, for the most part it's a fairly good debut, and you might get more out of it than I did if you're much bigger on nineties industrial rock.
Key Tracks: Lunchbox. Dope Hat, Dogma
Get Your Gunn (1994)
This EP features the album versions of the title track and "Misery Machine" (minus the Hidden Track nonsense), along with a remix of "Get Your Gunn" ("Mother Inferior Got Her Gunn") and non-album track "Revelation #9".
The "Get Your Gunn" remix isn't too different from the album version, but in my opinion it might actually improve on it a bit: The song didn't particularly stand out on it's parent album, but this mix gives it some added power by focusing a bit more on the "industrial" half of "industrial metal" - the pounding beat is emphasized a bit more, and some buzzing synths, additional drum machine, and more cool samples are added. Actually, maybe I like this version so much because it brings out the Ministry influence a bit.
Fitting it's Beatles-referencing title, "Revelation #9" is a lengthy music concrete piece. In my book it's pretty difficult to beat "Revolution #9" itself in the "creepy sound collage by a rock band" category, but they give it their best effort, and it is their earliest song to actually have some High Octane Nightmare Fuel content for me. Plus, according to the band, they went out of their way to include as many backmasked tracks in the song as forwards ones, so playing it backwards essentially gets you an entirely different collage.
Overall, the slight redundancy with Portrait Of An American Family drags it down a bit, but the two exclusive tracks are worth hunting down if you're a fan.
Key Tracks: Mother Inferior Got Her Gunn, Revelation #9
A little bit heavier on non-album content than the "Get Your Gunn" single (if you count remixes), this EP features five versions of "Lunchbox" (the original, three remixes and a radio edit) and a cover of Tubeway Army's "Down In The Park".
I don't exactly see myself sitting through five versions of one song too often, but the remixes are generally pretty good. "Next Motherfucker" sounds the most like the original, but all three accentuate the groove: "Brown Bag" and "Metal" add a lot more synthesizer and give it a techno element that somewhat brings to mind what KMFDM and White Zombie were doing around the same time. However, the latter two mixes are a bit too similar to each other - when the "Metal" mix started up I was initially under the impression that the "Brown Bag" one hadn't ended yet. Still, on their own, each mix manages to make the song a bit more danceable without making it lose it's edge. Oh, and then there's the radio edit, subtitled "High School Drop-Outs" - naturally a song that includes the repeated line "next motherfucker gonna get my metal" as a refrain is going to lose it's effect with parts of the vocals blanked out, but I suppose it was handy if you ran a college radio show at the time and wanted to play the song.
It's kind of interesting for me to find out that not only did Marilyn Manson beat The Foo Fighters to covering "Down In The Park", but they also beat DJ Shadow to sampling the "tachyon transmissions" from Prince of Darkness in the very same track. The cover isn't entirely a success though. On the one hand, they do a pretty good job of making the song their own while holding on to a bit of the cold, proto-Synth-Pop of the original. On the other hand, part of what made the original song creepy was hearing Gary Numan sing in a completely disinterested tone of voice about sitting at a restaurant and watching machines rape and murder people, so hearing Manson actually screaming at certain points of the song makes it lose a little something. Still, it's an interesting cover, particularly because while Gary Numan was an influence on industrial rock bands, you wouldn't quite think of Marilyn Manson as being among them.
Key Tracks: Down In The Park