BRANDING: On the new CD, Manson comes off as a regular guy — but is he ready to be related to??
A dour but gripping reflection on his divorce from Dita Von Teese and subsequent hook-up with actress Evan Rachel Wood, Marilyn Manson’s Eat Me, Drink Me (Interscope) is the first record in Manson’s deep catalogue that’s made me want to hang out with the guy rather than gawk at him from afar. This represents a success, if only for its demonstration of Manson’s ability — and willingness — to do something different. (An R&B record would also have been interesting.) But it’s not the only novelty at work here: never has the one-time Brian Warner seemed more like a guy who used to be called Brian Warner than he does in these tunes, nearly all of which find him singing about having his heart broken and then having someone else put it back together again.
A keen brand manager, Manson doesn’t leave his old-school fans high and dry; “Putting Holes in Happiness” and “They Said Hell’s Not Hot” couch his regular-guy confessions in the grisly language Antichrist Superstar devotees have come to expect. (In fact, though Eat Me, Drink Me’s title stems from his current Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass fixation — he’s at work on a film about the life of Lewis Carroll — Manson has said that it also alludes to Bernd Jürgen Brandes, the German man who responded to an Internet ad seeking a victim willing to be killed and consumed.) This time, however, the gore seems largely relegated to the realm of metaphor, as in the opening “If I Was Your Vampire,” where you can imagine what all the sucking is meant to signify.
So Eat Me offers an inside look at the man behind Manson. I found myself envious of novelist Jonathan Ames, who for his current Spin cover story kicked back in the artist’s LA mansion, getting shitfaced on absinthe while Manson blubbed about breaking up with Von Teese. But is Manson ready to be related to? Throughout the ’90s, his shtick was that he was the one doing the relating — that only he understood the pain and confusion of a depressed and fucked-up generation. Here, he’s the one asking for reassurance. There goes his carefully cultivated persona.
The same is true of Eat Me’s music, which Manson crafted with the help of a single collaborator, Tim Skold, a former member of industrial-rock holdouts KMFDM. Largely gone are the bombastic radio-rock choruses and the post-grunge guitar grind of his Trent Reznor–mentored heyday; they’re replaced by delicate synth-and-guitar arrangements that sound like what Billy Corgan was aiming for on TheFutureEmbrace. Manson sings-not-screams throughout the new album, and it’s not a bad sound; he’s in thrall to Davie Bowie’s androgynous croak, which I’d put up there in the Top 10 Rock-Star Voices Worth Emulating.
I suppose the real test of whether Manson is comfortable in this new sensitive-spook role will be the records that follow Eat Me, Drink Me. Will he continue to plumb new depths of emotional revelation, doing away with spectacle in favor of sincerity? Or will he return to the shock-rock tactics of old, perhaps embarrassed by this detour into emo-goth bathos? Stay tuned.