Portrait of an American Family is the debut album of American rock band Marilyn Manson, released in 1994 by Nothing and Interscope Records.
The album originated under the name The Manson Family Album in 1993, but due to dissatisfaction with its overly polished sound, the band reproduced and remixed the album with assistance from producers including Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who had signed the band to his Nothing label. Parts of the album were made at Reznor's home studio at 10050 Cielo Drive, where members of the Charles Manson family committed the 1969 Tate murders. (Reznor would famously later use this studio to create the NIN album The Downward Spiral.)
The album introduced the nightmarish tones and biting critique of modern American culture/media that would become the central ethos of the band, and contains a wide array of cultural references from lyrical Shout-Outs to a copious amount of samples (many of them from offbeat films). It also caused a bit of Executive Meddling due to the inclusion of references to Charles Manson and its controversial artwork.
The album is known for its singles "Get Your Gunn", "Lunchbox", and "Dope Hat".
- "Prelude (The Family Trip)/Rowing Song" 1:20
- "Cake and Sodomy" 3:46
- "Lunchbox" 4:32
- "Organ Grinder" 4:22
- "Cyclops" 3:32
- "Dope Hat" 4:21
- "Get Your Gunn" 3:18
- "Wrapped in Plastic" 5:35
- "Dogma" 3:22
- "Sweet Tooth" 5:03
- "Snake Eyes and Sissies" 4:07
- "My Monkey" 4:31
- "Misery Machine" 13:11
- Album Filler: The telephone that just keeps on ringing for several minutes (!) near the end of the album.
- Concept Album: All the songs are connected under witnessing the corruption in American society — namely from religion and media — as refracted through the lives of an average American family.
- Continuity Nod:
- "Dope Hat" would later be remixed on Smells Like Children as "Diary of a Dope Fiend".
- "Organ Grinder" has a sample from the Child Catcher's speech in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a film Manson would reference again on the album cover and title of Smells Like Children, as well as on the track "Shitty Chicken Gang Bang".
- The line "We're gonna ride to the Abbey of Thelema" in "Misery machine" references Aleister Crowley 's "Abbey of Thelema". Crowley would be referenced again on the album Smells Like Children, which has a track named "Diary of a Dope Fiend", in reference to Crowley's Diary of a Drug Fiend.
- Credits Gag: The personnel on the album is listed, according to their contributions, but some of those are clearly intended to be taken as a joke. Manson is for instance credited for "accusations, child manipulations and backwards masking". This is a Call-Back to the Spooky Kids demos, which also did this.
- Creepy Doll: On the album cover.
- Demoted to Extra: Roli Mosimann was chosen to produce Portrait of an American Family due to his work with Swans, but he turned in a flat and lifeless mix. As an Author's Saving Throw, Trent Reznor (who agreed with Manson that the mix "sucked") brought them to LA for seven weeks of remixing and re-recording, and Mosimann was demoted to "engineer" in the album credits. Daisy Berkowitz, after enough backstabbings to be legally a pin cushion, released this mix, which also has a previously unheard song, "Filth". One can judge it for themselves.
- Electronic Speech Impediment: "My Monkey" has sped up voices.
- "I Want" Song: "Lunchbox", which is from the perspective of a bullied school boy who wishes to be a big, powerful rock star that no one will be able to intimidate.
- Kids Are Cruel: "Lunchbox" is about a school boy who is bullied and uses his lunchbox as a weaponnote to act revenge upon his attackers.
- Kill the Cutie: "My Monkey", about a dead monkey.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Manson criticizes his country's society, especially religion, mainstream media and mob mentality.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Get Your Gunn" was inspired by the 1993 murder of American physician David Gunn, who was killed by an anti-abortion activist. Manson described the murder as "the ultimate hypocrisy I witnessed growing up: that these people killed someone in the name of being 'pro-life'." The same song also samples R. Budd Dwyer's public suicide, as aired during a televised press conference in 1987.
- Record Producer: Trent Reznor.
- Refuge in Audacity: Well, it's a Marilyn Manson album. The interior photography features fake Polaroid pictures of an apparently mutilated female body. Several lyrics uses Nightmare Fuel imagery or provide ideas to shock and provoke the listener into thinking in a different manner.
- Nevertheless, some of the earlier controversial ideas weren't used. For example, Manson planned to use a picture of himself nude as a baby for the album cover, in order to say that an innocent picture (taken by his mother in a completely non-sexual context) could be considered indecent. Despite not showing his genitals, lawyers felt this could be interpreted as child pornography and the cover was not used; the irony of this situation did not escape Manson.
- Another idea for the album cover that was eventually dropped was using artwork by serial killer John Wayne Gacy (which Acid Bath got away with during the same year, although they had no real mainstream appeal, so Executive Meddling wasn't present in that situation).
- Religion Rant Song: "Cake and Sodomy", which was inspired by Manson watching public access TV in a motel, seeing Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson preaching on one channel, asking for the viewer's credit card number, and then flipping to another one where a man masturbated and then asked the same of his audience.
- "Dope Hat" has the samples "The great hoodoo!" and "Prepare to meet your doom", spoken by Charles Nelson Reilly in the TV series Lidsville.
- "Go on and smile, you cunt!" in "Cake and Sodomy" are taken from Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris.
- "Organ Grinder" samples "Lollipops for the kiddie winkies", a line from The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
- "Lunchbox" samples "Fire" by Arthur Brown.
- "Get Your Gunn" has a sample from the press conference in which politician Budd Dwyer committed suicide on live TV in 1987.
- "Wrapped in Plastic" has samples from Twin Peaks.
- "Dogma" has the sampled line "Burn, you fucker!" from Pink Flamingos.
- "Snake Eyes and Sissies" has a sampled quote from serial killer and rapist Richard Ramirez during a court appearance.
- "My Monkey'" has several audio quotes from Charles Manson.
- "Cyclops" had a distorted and slowed down sample of the preacher from Poltergeist II: The Other Side singing "God is in his holy temple".
- The line "We're gonna ride to the Abbey of Thelema" in "Misery Machine" references Aleister Crowley 's "Abbey of Thelema" and samples of "Beep Beep" by The Playmates and a quote from the John Waters' film "Desperate Living".
- The album intro, "Prelude (The Family Trip)" is a shoutout to Willy Wonka's scary riddle/song during the tunnel ride in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, with exactly the same lyrics as both in the novel as well as the film. The music video of "Dope Hat" also has Manson playing the part of Wonka during the tunnel boat ride.
- "Misery Machine" is a reference to the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo.
- "Wrapped in Plastic" takes its name from Laura Palmer of the aforementioned Twin Peaks, and how her body is found wrapped in plastic sheets in the show's pilot.
- Stock Sound Effects: The album ends with ringing telephone sounds, and a very angry woman being heard yelling "Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother that I HATE YOU!"
- Take That!: After a telephone ringing for ever on the final track the voice of a woman is heard, complaining to never call her again, because then she will take legal action against the band.
- Wrench Whack: The song "Snake Eyes and Sissies" is about a psychotic guy, and mentions using a wrench as a weapon in its beginning.