Did You Just Assume My Gender?
Milo here, wondering how I got “here”. I mean what is “here”? I’m not physically in your computer. In fact, I’m writing this ages before you even read it, so shouldn’t it be “there”? I dunno. Let’s review a thing!
Now then, Marilyn Manson, if you’ve been living under some kind of rock for the past 20 years, is an industrial metal outfit helmed by the titular frontman. Specialising and pioneering in the extreme shock rock aesthetic that industrial metal adopted in the 90s and early 00s, along with bands like Nine Inch Nails (a favourite of mine) and Rammstein, Manson, after Antichrist Superstar brought them worldwide fame, or notoriety, added an element of glam rock into the mix, resulting in Mechanical Animals, a beautiful, horrifying mix of both.
As I said before, I’m a fan of Nine Inch Nails and their disturbing, layered sound, but haven’t really explored industrial metal in much detail. However, Marilyn Manson has always incited a bit of morbid curiosity in me, even when I was little and deathly afraid of his contact-lensed, androgynous look. Nevertheless, as I grew up and got into music more, I had always dismissed Manson as goth rock and wasn’t really up for it. Then I got into Nine Inch Nails and now I’m giving it a try.
Like NIN, Marilyn Manson has an electronica-tinged sound, but with more guitar riffs and other metal standards. The drawing point, however, is the band’s frontman, good ol’ Brian Warner, or Marilyn Manson, who’s controversial lyrics and distinct vocal style brought the band into the limelight.
1998’s Mechanical Animals see Manson using the aforementioned glam rock elements to great effect with his already unique sound, as well as paying obvious homage to David Bowie with the album’s concept, which is eerily similar to that of Ziggy Stardust.
The album opens with Great Big White World, with obvious links in the lyrics to the aforementioned concept with Manson’s “Alpha” character presumably giving his view on our planet. The lyrics really perpetuate this idea of an outsider looking in on how we behave as people. It also has a whole sci-fi feel to it, which is pretty apt. Musically, the song really has a grand opening feel to it, with the synths (or maybe guitar?) coming in on the chorus to create a really whiny effect that, again, gives a sci-fi flavour to the track. It also boasts some quality riffage. However, the beats and intro did remind me of Linkin Park, but that’s just a small criticism in an otherwise pretty great song.
That last song really showed me that Manson was going for something new with this album. However, the follow-up The Dope Show shows me how much of dingaling I am. All the old Manson tropes are present in this track, synthesised beats, distorted guitar and vocals that sound like me after a few too many Fruit Shoots (if you know what I mean *wink wink*). No. That tangent aside, there really isn’t anything new going on in The Dope Show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you like that sound. I don’t mind it.
From the new to the old to a bit of both, the title track Mechanical Animals has a nice bit of everything to keep everyone happy. Encompassing an almost arena rock-style intro, we get them beautifully artificial beats, a mainstay throughout the album, and Manson delivering his best Alaska Thunderf**k impression. While lyrically it’s nothing special and the acoustic guitar could be easily used for a Christina Aguilera song, it’s not terrible. Not great, though.
After that slight dip, Rock Is Dead does bring the album back to its feet. Unlike the Tenacious D song of the same name (sadly), Manson switches the references to rock bands for some kind of anti-pop culture message, yay. Musically, this is one of the albums definite high points, with quality riffage and infectious, thankfully organic sounding drumming, as well as a nice bit of synth to creep up the unease. Moreover, it has a chorus so catchy, I’ll probably be humming it for the rest of the day.
Following that, Disassociative opens with a Black Hole Sun-esque guitar part. The instrumental of the song follows suit with some other Manson staples thrown in here and there. I know it’s something to do with the chord progression, that’s it. Nevertheless, it’s not too bad, it has a noticeably more downbeat tone, similar to the opening track. Moreover, it also sounds like it is from the perspective of “Alpha”, Manson’s Ziggy Stardust equivalent, and, as such, includes a number of sci-fi mannerisms as well.
After that, we have the first ballad of the album, it was only a matter of time, in The Speed Of Pain. As I’ve stated on multiple occasions, I’m not usually one for the moodier side of most albums and this is, unfortunately, the case with this track. While everything sounds relatively good, I’m missing out on the sordid character that I expect from Manson, leaving me a bit unenthused.
Bringing back that lovely, filthy nature is Posthuman, with an early NIN sound running through it like a demented, electronic river. Manson’s vocals are once again raw and ugly with a nice bit of anti-Christianity in there and other lovely things, as his lyrics are usually laced with. Again, this is one of the album’s musical highlights for me, with a bit of a riff in there as well. Notably, Rose McGowan, of Planet Terror fame and Manson’s fiancee at the time, lends her voice on the highly distorted line “All that glitters is cold”. That’s hasn’t got anything to do the review, I just like trivia.
In the same sort of sonic vein as Posthuman, we have I Want To Disappear. Lyrically, this song is just as moany as you’d expect it to be. Moreover, the vocal performance is also quite lacklustre in this one as well, especially in the verses. Musically, it’s not much better. I mean, it’s a little bit better, but not much. The snyths and guitars aren’t doing anything new really and at points can get a bit grating. Every album has a point where it needs to do something or get something to break it up a bit so I don’t lose the will to listen. That being said, this is definitely an anthem for the young and abused. I’m a middle-class, semi-popular, relatively happy teenager, however, so I don’t get the appeal.
Another single from the album, I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me) is steeped in irony thanks to guest guitarist Dave Navarro’s, of Jane’s Addiction and RHCP, addiction at the time. That being said and my previous distain for Navarro and One Hot Minute I’ve had in the past (which I’ve since become lighter on thanks to Walkabout) aside, he still manages to give the track listing that kick up the ass it needed after the last song. There is a definite funkier feel to it, or as funky as Marilyn Manson can be, thanks to his solo in the song. The addition of gospel singers also mix it up, which is thankful. Nothing new going on with the vocals on and I wouldn’t expect much else, so no complants there. Compared to I Want To Disappear, this song is the right amount of variation to keep listeners, or at least me, interested.
After that we have New Model No. 15 which is greatly helped by the previous track, as it reverts to the same sort of sound as before. Now, we don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of the lyrics because I don’t really want to. I will say, however, that the frontman shows off his trademark wordplay in this song to great effect, as well as a fine performance. I’m torn slightly on the musical side of this track, as I think, while the electronic-elements aren’t really necessary, the band on this song sound great, the drumming particularly standing out.
Continuing on the weird sexual train (choo-choo) that left the station at New Model No. 15, we have User Friendly. Again, I don’t wanna get into the themes and lyrics of this song but I… no… I don’t want to, this is a family-ish website. Nevertheless, Manson gets right down and dirty with his performance which is, admittedly, more sordidity than I was asking for, it would be nice if he could juuuuuuust tone it down a notch. The dirty bastards behind the instruments aren’t much better, either, with some filthy basslines being thrown down as well as a bit of faux (or maybe real) scratching, which was quite interesting. Ok, can I stop TALKING ABOUT THIS NOW?
Then we have a… jazz song? While Fundamentally Loathsome might hide under the guise of Marilyn Manson and noisy bunch (their full name) as a metal song. It is completely the opposite, being heavy on the bass and virtually nowt on the ‘tars. It’s something I’d expect from a lounge, not a Manson album.
Thankfully after that pit of filth and jazz (which is, coincidentally, a coffee shop on the outskirts of Cumbria), we’ve got something that resembles a Manson song in The Last Day On Earth, like some other songs on the album, obvious parallels can be drawn between this and Bowie, but to a much more extreme tune. Like New Model No. 15, I think the song could’ve done without all the frilly bits and just stuck to a more stripped back sound, not completely, but there was bit too much going on really. It was alright though, something to get the User Friendly taste out my mouth, eurgh.
Finally, we get that slightly, slightly, simpler sound in Coma White. Taking quite a powerful guitar part and running with it, I think Coma White is one of the better songs on the album. While the vocals are fine, the bass is pleasantly unpleasant and the drums are standard, the guitar really, really shines on this track. While being at the same time powerful and eerie, it sums up what the band were trying to do with this album, and executes it perfectly.
The album was produced by Michael Beinhorn, a favourite of mine thanks to his work with Herbie Hancock, The Red Chili Peppers, Soundgarden and Hole, as well as Manson himself. However, much of the work went to the desk of Sean Beavan, mixer of Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, who engineered the record. Overall, I’d say the production was pretty top notch, although I could’ve done with a bit more of an eerie tone to whole album, this being a Marilyn Manson record and all.
Overall, Mechanical Animals wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be. I had already some prejudices towards Manson and his band of merry men and I’m glad to say they no longer exist. Manson himself delivered some brilliant and some less-brilliant performances but was good on the whole. Musically, while they ain’t no Nine Inch motherflippin’ Nails, I thought they nailed the industrial sound while adding an element of hard rock that their Reznory counterparts just don’t have. Now, to Rammstein! (only joking)
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations