Teenage years can be difficult. If it is not a desperate scrap with acne, peer pressure and the unwanted advances of a shape-shifting clown demon (I think that might not have been me), it is a minefield of making the correct musical choices to reflect one's diverse and cool personality. As my Mother will attest, I spent a lot of my teenage years beneath a dark cloud and, with the help of legendary spirit guide Mary Anne Hobbs, used the quiet time to explore the section of HMV that would broadly be described as 'Alternative'. It was during this period that I first encountered the insatiable genius of Ohio native Brian Warner, aka Marilyn Manson. A moniker formed as an amalgamation of contrasting iconography (Monroe and Charles), it seems only natural that Manson has gone on to be one of the most polarising artists in music history.
For this month's classic album, I wanted to take a look at what I consider to be Manson's finest hour – 2000s fourth studio album Holy Wood. Released just over eighteen months after the tragic events of the Columbine High School massacre, an event for which Manson received a near-career ending level of blame due, in the most part, to perceived sartorial significances that stirred up strong sentiments of scapegoatery. Holy Wood stands as Manson's response to the criticism along with being a strong comment on the nature of fame, the intolerance of the American people, the diminishing relevance of religion and the black heart that beats just beneath the cracked, fragile surface of the entertainment industry.
Created as the final image (though narrative-wise, it is classed as the first installment) of a triptych that includes previous albums Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals, there is an raw anger that courses through Holy Wood that is not so overtly present in the previous two records. There are some that may interpret this as aggression, I see it more as despair metamorphosed into rage brought on by Manson's unintentional and unfair involvement in the Columbine narrative. Manson lines up his triumvirate of targets – celebrity, religion and the media – like animals ready for the slaughter and carves each apart with the skill of a seasoned butcher.
Opening track God Eat God acts as an overture to the album, omens of darkness cast beneath a gloomy sky. It is also the first instance of a theme that will run through the whole album – comparisons drawn between Jesus and JFK (and, as contrast, Manson himself). Both victims of assassinations of sorts, both deified by their respective publics. This motif is picked up again in “President Dead” as Manson examines the responses to the Dallas events by a hungry public, a self-serving media and a capitalism-driven religion praying on people's need for stability. Manson most powerful swipe at this cult of personality approach comes on the perfectly-measured Lamb Of God. Over stripped back accompaniments, Manson states that for every John Lennon there is a Mark David and that they are elevated to a near-identical status by a society obsessed with fame and ratings.
It is Manson's thoughts on Columbine that set this album apart and cement it as musically and historically significant. Fluctuating track The Love Song explores America's infatuation with guns and, beneath screeching guitars that hover above the track like vultures, questions how Manson's fundamentally positive messages could be taken as the catalyst for chaos. The Fight Song and Disposable Teens both take on the isolation of young people in society and equate it to Manson's own isolation for not confirming to societal 'norms'. When the Columbine killers or, by extension, Manson were good they were ignored and shunned by the world around them. When tragedy struck, they ended up getting more media attention than the victims. The most blatant reference comes on third single The Nobodies where Manson condemns both the desperate race for notoriety and the response to infamy, no more so than with the downplayed statement that “You should have seen the ratings that day”.
Whilst not wanting to relate every classic album back to its position in Trump's terrifying America, it is interesting to note how relevant Manson's sentiments still are today. It is even possible to argue that the pursuit of fame has become more of a societal driving force with the emergence of social media and the implications of that are scarier than anything Manson imagined on the album. Ignoring the modern significance, Holy Wood is a truly remarkable record. It is an album of heroes and villains and how we know them apart. It is a denouncement of idolatry and unquestioning worship in all of their guises. It is a Dante-esque journey through a tortured America where guns and power set the agendas, Manson acting all the while as a faithful Virgil to guide you through the detritus.
Whilst I have filed away most of the bands from my teenage year – Slipknot, Taproot, Sepultura and Pitchshifter to name but a few – in the dingier recesses of my mind, Marilyn Manson remains firmly on display. I think the reason for this is how it feels to be a Marilyn Manson fan. It is akin to being part of an elite club, though one built around being as inclusive and anti-elitist as possible. Whilst others have condemned Manson and struggled to accept his outward appearance and outspoken views as anything other than abominations, myself and many others have scratched beneath the surface and found an artist with a voice that sounds unlike anything else that has emerged from the US. Erudite, eloquent and effervescent, Manson had a unique ability to be at one with a tantalisingly macabre world while also remaining incisively in tune with reality. Part visionary, part rebel, part champion for individuality and free expression, Manson will inevitably go down in musical history as either the bastard son of a shameful nation or a musical pioneer with an unwavering commitment to reshape the world for the better. For me, unsurprisingly, he will always be the latter.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“But if they kill you on their TV/You're a martyr and a lamb of God”
Lamb Of God
Media hate figure
Laments nineties tragedy
And his perceived part
As always, please feel free to write your own review using the comments section below. The more the merrier. Please do take note of our contribution guidelines. Looking forward to hearing what you thought.