Marilyn Manson was possibly the last great rock god of the twentieth century, building his reputation as an Industrial / Goth / Alternative Metal hybrid, particularly through working closely with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to build his early sound and reputation as the shock rocker to end all shock rockers, following a tradition that was most famously associated with Alice Cooper back in the 1970s with the release of songs like “School’s Out” (if you weren’t around, ask yer mum!).
Manson released “Mechanical Animals”, his third album, in September 1998 and it showed a marked change of direction as he moved away from the industrial styling of his first two albums (and the scene defining “Antichrist Superstar” album) and moved into a high sheen, partly electronic glam rock style that showed his admiration of the “Ziggy Stardust” / “Aladdin Sane” / “Diamond Dogs” era of David Bowie’s era defining 1970s music. This was shown clearly through very different approaches to the sound of the music and also to the accompanying video and graphic images that were used to promote his music.
The best way to do this is to compare something from his previous “Antichrist Superstar” album (represented here by the most famous single release, “The Beautiful People”) compared with “Rock Is Dead” which was the third single to be taken from “Mechanical Animals”:
Only two years separate these two songs. “The Beautiful People” was released in September 1996, and was interpreted by many people as Manson’s critique of the culture of beauty and plastic surgery, and the requirement to change yourself to fit into the demands of a wider society obsessed with surface and superficiality. The video was directed by Flora Sigismondi, and was filmed in an abandoned distillery, featuring images of decay and medical apparatus (such as artificial prostheses) and operating equipment, to contrast with the ideals of physical perfection that Manson felt was being demanded by mainstream society.
Contrast this with the audio and visual delights contained within “Rock Is Dead”:
It is almost as if this is a completely different artist with a completely different agenda to the self-proclaimed God of Fuck previously encountered.
All simple monkeys with alien babies
Amphetamines for boys, crucifixes for ladies
Sampled and soulless, worldwide and real webbed
You sell all the living for more safer dead
“Mechanical Animals” was one of those most dreaded of beasts: a concept album (and also apparently the middle section of a reverse trilogy of concept albums that begins with fourth album “Holy Wood (Into The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)” and ends with second album “Antichrist Superstar”. Good, I’m glad we got that clear).
In the album, Manson takes on two roles: seven songs are sung from the perspective of one character whilst the other seven songs are from the second. Simple. The first character is a substance addicted glam rocker much like the famous Ziggy Stardust character created by David Bowie, whilst the second is a gender ambiguous alien called Omēga (as seen on the infamous cover art)who, perhaps. takes more of a cue from the character that Bowie played in the film “The Man Who Fell To Earth”. Omega, the alien, has become a numb shell, lost or high through excessive drug used as a coping mechanism for his life as a corporate rock “product”. This is the character shown through the “Rock Is Dead” video.
Yup, we are finding ourselves back in art-rock concept album territory, and certainly back in musical realms where I was not only comfortable but utterly and perfectly at home. I was aware of Manson prior to the release of “Mechanical Animals” primarily because of “The Beautiful People” and his status as the late 90s king of the “alt-rock” scene (short for alternative rock), in competition with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails who discovered and provided musical direction for much of Manson’s early output.
However, it was with the release of “Mechanical Animals” that I became a convert to the Manson oeuvre.
The song has subsequently become a staple of Manson’s live set, as shown here by its inclusion in his “Guns, God and Government” tour in support of the “Holy Wood” album. Enjoy a moment of Manson reborn into his shock rock antichrist superstar role.
It rocks, don’t you think?
The myth behind the song is that Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins had allegedly made a statement to Manson that he believed “rock is dead” and that electronic music was going to be the future. This song is alleged to be Manson’s response, to indicate that rock music is and always will be in demand.
Rock is deader than dead
Shock is all in your head
Your sex and your dope is all that we’re fed
So fuck all your protests and put them to bed
God is in the TV
Ah, what a typically Manson-esque phrase. “God is in the TV” – which is probably true if you live in American with wall-to-wall evangelical religion on hundreds of channels. Probably not quite so shocking if it had been “God is in the BBC”.
If I had been an angry and disaffected teenager (as opposed to a mildly pissed off bloke in my early 30s), I expect that I would have become a serious Manson fan because he asked the big questions about media and government that needed asking at the time. I bought the albums, enjoyed most of the songs, particularly enjoyed the controversial interviews, and had the safety of distance and emotional disconnection from the particular buttons that he was pushing.
My eldest son was entering into his teen years, and I could see that he was starting to ask them same about the relationship between identity and society as Manson was asking so, one day, I took the monumental decision to give him all my Marilyn Manson CDs – I don’t know to this day whether that was a wise or foolhardy decision for reasons that I’m not going to go into here and now. However, it started him on a musical journey away from the likes of Robbie Williams (not hat I have a deep seated resentment of the dear Robster, but all teenagers need to find music that creates a generation gap) into towards the likes of Slipknot, Rammstein, Avenged Sevenfold, My Chemical Romance, and his current weird fascination with BabyMetal – yeah, look BabyMetal up on YouTube to get the full experience.
Do it now.
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked through Columbine High School, shooting dead 12 students and a teacher, whilst also wounding 21 others before they both killed themselves. It remains the fourth deadliest school shooting in American history. Unsurprisingly, Marilyn Manson became a focus for blame when it was announced that the two killers were fans of the band – and it was rumoured that they were wearing the band’s t-shirts during the massacre. Later on, reports revealed that the two students had considered the band to be “a joke”. Despite this, Manson (and other bands) were widely criticized by religious and political leaders.
Manson responded by creating “Holy Wood (Into The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)”, using songs left over from the recording of “Antichrist Superstar” as a starting point, leading back to a harder and more industrial sound compared with the glam rock inspired sound of the “Mechanical Animals” album. In the immediate aftermath of the Columbine massacre, Manson cancelled all concerts and refused all requests for interviews, going into a self-imposed exile. He later explained this decision in an interview with Bill O-Reilly, saying:
So when you have these things like Columbine, and you have these kids who are angry and they have something to say and no one’s listening, the media sends a message that says if you do something loud enough and it gets our attention then you will be famous for it. Those kids ended up on the cover of Time magazine [twice], the media gave them exactly what they wanted. That’s why I never did any interviews around that time when I was being blamed for it because I didn’t want to contribute to something that I found to be reprehensible.
He did a very Manson thing, which was to feed all his rage and resentment and all the emotions that he felt in the aftermath of Columbine, and he put them into a piece of art: his fourth album “Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)”, which deals with issues directly relating to the massacre explicitly in song like “The Nobodies”. It was brave but also dangerous, and the personal consequences for Manson himself seems to have haunted him as band relationships have disintegrated, personal relationships have failed, he suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts and even his status as America’s number one bogeyman seems to have faded as Manson turned his attention inward with his focus for following records becoming more personal, particularly on the albums “Eat Me Drink Me” and “The High End of Low”.
Manson’s critical and commercial fortunes have seemed to reversed back in the direction of the successful with the last two albums, “Born Villain” and “The Pale Emperor”. He is currently recording a new album which he has stated that he feels will be his most politically charged and angry as a result of the election of President Donald Trump.
Perhaps now we need the music and attitude of Marilyn Manson to say the unsayable more than ever?