Until recently, the only interesting thing about Marilyn Manson was his barely concealed contempt for the legions of young fans who literally worship him like a god. With a recent glammed-up science-fiction makeover of both his music and his image, the former Brian Warner appears to have expanded his feelings of contempt to include everyone from his audience to, well, just about everyone else. Really, who is supposed to buy this sudden transformation from self-proclaimed "Antichrist Superstar" into Ziggy Stardust? Surely not his fans, presumably the same garden-variety ghouls who napped during David Bowie's set when the original starman toured with Manson mentor Trent Reznor. As for the numerous bystanders who look to Manson to fuel their various crusades (free speech, censorship, religion, breast implants, etc.), paying any heed to a publicity-hungry peacock like Manson just makes everybody look and feel foolish. Surprisingly, those most likely to appreciate Manson's change in spirit may not be the impressionable youths already attracted to his faux revolution, or his politically motivated allies and enemies, but honest-to-goodness rock 'n' roll fans. Mechanical Animals is first and foremost more musical than anything Manson has done before, and, unlike the wonderful mimicry of Brits like Suede or Pulp, Manson never cops an ironically detached attitude. His music packs both industrial muscle and anthemic conviction, even as it playfully (!) steals from the Bowie songbook. What it lacks, sadly, is any sense of wit, as songs like "Great Big White World," "The Dope Show," and "Coma White" doggedly hammer at safe taboos like drugs, sex, drugs, stardom, drugs, and death. And drugs. It would certainly be interesting if Manson could devise some novel message to go with his music, but in the meantime, his career as a living cartoon seems to be heading in the right direction—tunefulness, for one. As one of the many logical heirs to the legacy of calculating capitalist P.T. Barnum, Manson must be laughing at the hordes of fans who line up and support a supposedly anti-establishment artist whose liner notes credit someone, in true Bryan Ferry fashion, with "hair." But even Manson must realize that with this release, people actually have a reason to line up in the first place.
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