The Golden Age of Grotesque (Interscope 37002)
I love Marilyn Manson. An unpopular opinion, I know, but his last three albums, (Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood) are among my favorite and most listened to discs. His mix of passion, disgust, ignorance, brilliance, and sheer stupidity has created some of the most thought-provoking and confrontational music of the last decade.
Every cheesy, pathetic attempt made by rock mannequins to shock their audience (take the moronic but brilliantly marketed Madonna/Britney/Christina kiss on the MTV awards as an example) has already been done a thousand times over by Manson. If three girls kissing is supposedly shocking, check out Manson getting a rim job on stage from his guitarist in the "God is In The TV" video. THAT'S shocking.
This is why Manson is so appealing to me. He isn't a hack, or if he is, he's the king of all hacks. Though some of his music and antics are questionable, he seems to really feel every goddamn thing he says and does. It's all part of his mission to shake people out of their everyday sensibilities as best he can.
Manson has not only devoted his life to art, he has made his life itself an artistic statement. This, in the tradition of the Dada or Surrealist schools of the early 20th century, is a noble gesture from a very ignoble man. That's why I love him.
Regrettably, some of the glowing things I just said about Manson have been jettisoned for almost half of his new disc. I was wholeheartedly looking forward to this album, The Golden Age of Grotesque, as it supposedly uses the music and art scene of 1930s Germany, (an era that interests me greatly), as its inspiration.
Aside from a few songs and the packaging, though, the disc has little to do with anything from the 30s art scene. Instead, a good portion of this overly-long disc is more inspired by third-rate 80s metal like Krokus and Rough Cutt. This might have something to do with the departure of long-time Manson songwriter/bassist Twiggy Ramirez, who co-wrote the previous three albums.
Many songs, including "The Better of Two Evils," "(s)Aint," "Ka-Boom Ka-Boom," and "Slutgarden," are almost complete throwaways. "Ka-Boom" is particularly astringent, with the repeated chorus of "Ka-Boom, Ka-Boom. I wanna lu-lu-lu-lu-luv you" repeated over and over again. Ugh. Coming from the guy who wrote "Coma Black" just a few years ago, this is quite a surprising departure.
For most of the disc, Manson is no longer the nihilistic antichrist wannabe or even the sleek, semi-human mechanical animal he once was. He's now a happy, well-adjusted, but still edgy, absinthe fiend who is starting to believe his own hype. As bizarre as this may sound, The Golden Age of Grotesque is the feel-good metal album of the year.
He has even taken on the stylings of a narcissistic rapper on some tracks, with constant references to himself and how brilliant he is. Frankly, some of the lyrics are so self-absorbed they make me cringe.
Luckily, not everything has gone awry on Grotesque. The tracks that are good are VERY good. If one can skip over the duds, quite a few gems lie hidden. In fact, the disc starts out very strongly before the Bullet Boys and Keel influences take over.
The opening cuts, "This is the New Shit" and "mObscene," are barnstormers in the style of "Rock is Dead" and "Disposable Teens." And the two songs that actually ARE influenced by 30s art, "Doll-Dagga-Buzz-Buzz-Ziggity-Zag" and the title track, are welcome experiments. The fantastic drum loop in "Grotesque" is quite possibly the most disturbing loop ever put to disc. I'm not quite sure how drums can possibly be disturbing, but Manson manages. It's a shame that there isn't more music in this style on the disc.
Finally, "Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth" marks the return of the Antichrist Superstar for a brief moment. By far the angriest song on the disc, the chorus of "This is a black collar song! Put in your middle finger and sing along. Use your fist and not your mouth," is a pleasant shot of adrenaline. It showcases the programming and production of Ramirez’s replacement, bassist/songwriter/producer Tim Skold (ex-KMFDM) to an impressive degree.
The bad metal songs start popping in after this and, aside from the clever "Para-noir," which features a woman citing all of the reasons she would fuck Marilyn Manson, things don't really pick up until the closing track, "Vodevil." Featuring another brief cameo by the Antichrist Superstar in the great chorus "This isn't music and we’re not a band! We’re five middle fingers on a motherfucking hand," it closes this mixed record on a high note.
So what we have here is 50% of a great Manson disc with quite a good amount of filler. Hopefully by the next album Manson will once again become the raving bastard we have come to enjoy, but until then we have to live with this happy, narcissistic Marilyn Manson, which is a strange thing indeed.
As usual, I find the basic Loud Bassoon rating scale insufficient to address such a work of art. I therefore bestow the rating of Three Rim Jobs.
Review by Dr. Martin Absinthe