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 record contains a wide array of cultural references from Shout Outs to sampling, and 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.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: A major theme on the album. According to Manson himself the record deals mostly with society trying to hide the truth from children, while at the same time promoting ideals that they don't live up to.
- "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 weapon (a popular schoolyard "trick" during Manson's childhood years was for kids to stuff the metal boxes with rocks as an improvised weapon, which would inflict horrific damage) to act revenge upon his attackers, waiting for the day he can grow up to be a big rock and roll star, who is never intimidated by others.
- 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 baby nude picture of himself as the album cover 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.
- Religion Rant Song: "Cake and Sodomy", which was inspired by watching public access TV and seeing Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson preaching on one channel, asking for the viewers credit card number, and then flipping to another one where a man masturbated and then asked the same of his audience.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Misery Machine" is a reference to the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo.
- "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 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".
- 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.