I remember when Guitar Hero games were ubiquitous and inescapable. Game stores seemed built out of Guitar Hero boxes. Then, for no perceptible reason, people stopped playing them, people stopped buying them, and game companies stopped making them. The franchise imploded like a bubble in the Marianas Trench. Three years later, it’s actually getting hard to believe that Guitar Hero games even once existed. Gone…all of it gone…
Marilyn Manson was huge in the mid 90s, and a national tragedy made him huger. But there was always this deadness at the centre of the Manson hype. He clearly wouldn’t be around for long. Nobody cared much about what he actually said or did, and certainly nobody cared about his music, people only cared about his image — the evil satanist rockstar, and his image that often forks away from the truth (Manson’s only involvement in the Church of Satan was to accept an honorary priesthood while a guest of Anton LaVey’s.
He also marked an ominous cultural tidal change: the exploitation and monetization of controversy. Amazing, once people thought that getting arrested or sued or libelled in the papers was a bad thing. Now, you milk it for all it’s worth, and guys like Manson showed us the way. Bad press is a like a psychotic millionaire sugar daddy. Some say you should avoid him. But say and do the right things, and you can go on the ride of your life, even while he’s breaking your teeth off at the gumline with his fists.
Between these two points, the music often gets overlooked. At times it seems music is the least important part about this band. Antichrist Superstar is Manson’s most enduring album, but it is flawed. It is as long as NIN’s Broken and Ministry’s ???????? combined, and is inferior to both those releases. The band seems to be too busy chasing heroin around on tinfoil to write good songs consistently. It has many impressive moments, but they don’t flow steadily or reliably.
“Irresponsible Hate Anthem” is noisy punk rock song, in one ear and out the other. “The Beautiful People” is great, it’s catchy and features an instantly recognisable tom-tom beat by Ginger Fish. The whole album has really good instrumentation. The songwriting often gets floppy, but all the parts are played with intensity and conviction. How to make a Marilyn Manson album: pack the rafters with talented musicians, supply drugs, and hang on for dear life.
The album is long as fuck, and full of frustrating Good Cop/Bad Cop songs that entertain and bore in clear-cut, alternating sections. Occasionally there’s a genuinely thrilling idea (the thrashing chorus of “The Reflecting God”, the Black Sabbath riffing on “Kinderfeld”) and then the band drops it like a senile old-timer dropping a TV remote. “Cryptorchid” is a pure waste of space, just a mess of ambient industrial shards.
Manson’s voice is commanding and creepy, although he has some tics that never really sat well with me. His cutesy falsetto is just plain annoying, as is his habit of taking a pithy lyric and shouting it over and over again, as if he’s worried we’ll miss the point (with good reason, as it happened).
Antichrist Superstar is unique and powerful, but it is not quite a classic. It’s strength is mostly in its heraldry: it’s the most shocking, the most outrageous, etc. Musically, Manson never learned the difference between songwriting that articulates fucked-upness and songwriting that’s plain fucked-up.