Mechanical Animals, by Marilyn Manson
Suggested by Owen Pauling
There are a number of Urban Legends in music.
Perhaps the most famous is the Faustian pact that Robert Johnson made down at the Crossroads, trading his eternal soul for unnatural skill on the guitar. There’s the rumour that Paul McCartney died in a car accident in 1967 and was replaced by a lookalike. Keith Richards snorted his father’s ashes, Phil Collins watched someone drown, Led Zeppelin got creative with a groupie and a mudshark… the list is endless.
Marilyn Manson, the Nineties shock rocker that corrupted the youth of a generation, has two notable rumours. The first is that he played the thirteen year old speccy nerd Paul Pfeiffer in the popular US sitcom The Wonder Years. The second is that he’s had one of his ribs surgically removed in order to allow himself easier oral access to Little Marilyn.
Neither of these things are true.
Mechanical Animals is Manson’s third studio album, released at the height of their fame after breaking through with Antichrist Superstar. At once both concept album and rock opera, it marks as a musical departure from the go-to industrial and alternative metal style, exploring more traditional rock themes and flirting with glam and burgeoning electronica. There’s a lot on offer here, from the grinding symphony of the opener Great Big White World to the infectious and bouncy Rock is Dead.
Thematically, it looks at the concept of fame, as is to be expected from a band that was coming to terms with it’s own success. There’s a huge undercurrent of drug abuse that courses through the songs, from the obvious singles The Dope Show and I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me), to the hard rock ballad Coma White.
Coma White is, in many ways, the strongest song on the album, as it feels like it’s Manson at his stripped-back best, reigned in and not falling back on the sense of brooding gurn that can underpin the other more strident tracks. It feels much more anti-drugs than the rest, though whether that’s what you want from Marilyn Manson is another question entirely.
My issue with Marilyn Manson has always been that the music is largely a secondary consideration behind the character. It’s easy to believe the rumours, that he removed a rib for self-pleasure, because he’s Marilyn frickin’ Manson. Antichrist Superstar built him up to be the Monster, while Mechanical Animals makes only token gestures to shake that juvenile conceit. A lot of it feels like an exercise in shock-value box-ticking, but it’s exciting either way
Mechanical Animals is an intriguing album, and I’ll give it 6/10. It feels theatrical in a way, almost like a soundtrack to the Devil’s stageshow. But am I rating the music, or am I rating the performance? I’ll leave that question to the philosophers.