17 Jul 19
Consequence of Sound
Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, based on the exact science of personal opinion, late night debates, and the love of music. In this installment, we rank Marilyn Manson’s discography thus far.
Marilyn Manson started out as Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids in the early ’90s in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and became one of the first acts signed to Nothing Records, the vanity label of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. With the lead singer and his eventual eponymous band’s name being a combination of pop culture icons Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson, the dichotomy between the beautiful and the ugly of American society became a running theme throughout the band’s music and aesthetic.
Often dubbed “shock rock,” the controversy surrounding Manson himself sometimes overshadows the band’s music, but this is not a fair assessment. While the band is willing to experiment with its sound, heading into introspective synthesizer pieces or acoustic Johnny Cash like anthems, Marilyn Manson has consistently released solid industrial rock riffage album after album. He has not wildly changed his sound or become defunct altogether, like a number of the bands that jumped on the industrial metal bandwagon in the late 1990s.
Marilyn Manson albums tend to go in cycles; a heavy album like Antichrist Superstar is followed by a more touchy-feely album like Mechanical Animals, and so it goes through most of the band’s career. Although, at this point, it is a bit of a stretch to call Marilyn Manson a band, with the eponymous lead singer being the only constant member. It is almost a solo effort really, with Manson usually working with a guitarist/song writer (such as Twiggy Ramirez, Tim Skold, or Tyler Bates) and a producer.
The No. 1 album on this list was a unanimous choice, but the rest did require some debate, with newer music holding up just as strong as some of Marilyn Manson’s now “classic” albums.
— Colette Claire
10. Eat Me, Drink Me (2007)
This Is the New Take (Analysis): There are more outliers to our mental image of Marilyn Manson in his discography than we allow ourselves to think, with some of those outliers being among his best albums. Unfortunately for Eat Me, Drink Me, an outlier does not always make a brilliant juxtaposition but instead sometimes can feel more like a tired reach. By the time of the recording of Eat Me, Drink Me, Manson’s first marriage to burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese was in dissolution and his next controversial relationship was in its early days. Combine this with the mass defection of nearly all of his band between the previous album and this one, and you wind up with an album full of potentially solid material that unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb.
There is another world where the overarching image and aesthetic project of Marilyn Manson leaned more to the Mechanical Animals end of things rather than the Antichrist Superstar, and in that world, this album is well-regarded, an earnest attempt at a straightforward and non-conceptual glam rock album that manages to hit the mark pretty well. However, we do not live in that world; in this one, Eat Me, Drink Me feels a bit too much like a man emerging from a divorce into new love with no clear sight of who he is anymore except that he isn’t who he was. And while Manson would eventually figure it out, he certainly hadn’t here.
The Beautiful Pinnacle (Best Song): “Heart-Shaped Glasses (When the Heart Guides the Hand)” delivers a reggae-touched angular post-punk tune that rivals the early Killers at their best. Not what you’d expect from Marilyn Manson, eh? A highlight not only because of its quality but also because of its inexplicability, a sonic palette that would never recur in his discography. There are maybe better songs on this album, but this one is the most striking and sticks with you longest.
Disposable Track (Worst Song): “Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery” is less bad than it is lazy, featuring a set of lyrics that Manson should have known were beneath him. By fixating on copycats aping his style, something any proper aesthete will deal with in their day, and then draping them in lazy vulgarity as opposed to his at-times astute kind, Manson cheapens himself in a way his followers couldn’t. A shame, too; the music’s quite nice on this one. — Langdon Hickman
09. The High End of Low (2009)
This Is the New Take: The return of Twiggy Ramirez to the band may have set it back rather than propelled it forward. Twiggy, who left in 2002, was one of the principle song writers for the band in the beginning but was replaced by Tim Sköld for a brief period until Twiggy’s return in 2008. The first single from High End of Low, “Arma-goddamn-motherf**kin-geddon” was put out as a teaser before the album’s release and was very reminiscent of the something off of Portrait of an American Family. This had fans ready for a return to a more old-school sound for Marilyn Manson, but this was a bit misleading.
Rather than a return to form, this album goes down an introspective rabbit hole and never returns. This is not to say that the entire thing is unlistenable. It starts out really strong and has some great songs like the acoustic guitar driven “Four Rusted Horses” (a clear precursor to The Pale Emperor), the slow burn of the ballad “Devour,” the epic almost ’80s metal style ballad “Running to the Edge of the World,” and the beguiling “Leave a Scar” (which really should have been a single). However, toward the end of the album, it wanders off mostly into little remembered filler with songs like “WOW” and “Wight Spider.”
If Marilyn Manson had kept this album down to 10 songs, like he did on later records, people might remember this album differently. It is widely known now that Manson had recently been through a divorce and was in the midst of a tumultuous relationship with actress Evan Rachel Wood when this album was made, and was in a very dark place in his life.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “We’re From America” is the most quintessentially Marilyn Manson song on this album. It cuts to the chase and doesn’t mince words. The guitars favor a power approach over virtuosity and expertise with its fast, chunky industrial guitar riff. Manson takes on his favorite target, the fundamentalist Christian American culture with lyrics like, “We don’t believe in credibility/ Because we know we’re f**king incredible”, offering a biting satire on America “where Jesus was born.”
Disposable Track: “Unkillable Monster” sounds like a track from Mechanical Animals if you slowed it down and played it under water. It is a bit of mishmash of other better songs on this album. Specifically, it vaguely sounds like “Running to the Edge of the World,” earlier in the album, which is a much better song. This is certainly one of the tracks that could have been cut in the name of cohesion. — Colette Claire
08. The Golden Age of Grotesque (2003)
This Is the New Take: The previous three albums of Manson’s career (Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood, all of which you will find higher on this list) comprised a three-album concept by the group. It seems as though, in the wake of that major work in rock music, Manson’s creativity was exhausted, producing The Golden Age of Grotesque, an album that sounds less an inspired new direction and more like Manson parodying himself. The music is near uniformly flat, with a few exceptions to be fair, focusing on the trendy combination of metallic hard rock and electronic beats that made up your Fast and the Furious soundtracks at the time.
Overall, we get a mess of a record that can’t decide between Weimar or Nazi symbolism, neither of which are particularly appetizing. Still, at the time the group boasted guitarist John 5 and keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, a duo who were well-skilled at producing high caliber art-house rock music under the Manson banner, and as such there are still songs which are resonant and rich. Further, this was not the lowest the nadir years of Manson, before his immaculate re-conception on The Pale Emperor, would descend; as mentioned already, there would come albums that made fans long for this period, something that feels strange taking this record on its lonesome.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “The Golden Age of Grotesque” is not only the best song on the album, it’s also the best song exploring the sonic textures unique to this album. The swung feel and sultry burlesque piano feel additive here rather than purely a gimmick, borrowing jazz-age obscenity to paint his critical picture of the landscape circa 2003. The lyrics suffer at the squint test, but as a slice of cheeky musical fun, it’s charming.
Disposable Track: Which to choose? “Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag” might be the dumbest song the man’s ever written, but musically it surpasses “mOBSCENE”, a song as sonically annoying as it is lyrically vapid. But ultimately it’s the inexplicably bad “This Is The New Sh*t” that manages to hit the bottom of the well, being lyrically asinine on top of musically insufferable. Quite possibly the worst song he’s ever written, too. — Langdon Hickman
07. Born Villain (2012)
This Is the New Take: Marilyn Manson has a distinct style, clearly influenced by great artists like Bowie and Bauhaus, but still uniquely something of its own. This style is gothic, bluesy, metallic, raucous, industrial rock n’ roll. When a Marilyn Manson song comes on, the listener immediately recognizes the artist. However, because this style is so distinct, it can also be recycled.
Born Villain felt like it was resting on past glories without really trying something new. This might partly be because of some serious lineup changes that were happening in the band around this time, including the departure of drummer Ginger Fish, who had been with the band since 1995. Former Nine Inch Nails member Chris Vrenna took over composition and drumming duties on Born Villain but also left shortly thereafter.
The most memorable song on Born Villain is the single “No Reflection”, with its quick catchy industrial beat, and anthemic, if self-indulgent, chorus (“I don’t know which me that I love”). Another standout track is the gritty and industrial “Overneath the Path of Misery”. While this album was a welcome departure from the depression soaked High End of Low because it is faster and more cohesive. It also ends with a cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, which is well done but seems a little random. It could be a nod to Trent Reznor’s use of some of the lyrics in “You’re So Vain” in the Nine Inch Nails’ song “Starf**kers Inc.” There was a bit of press war going on between Reznor and Manson around this time, with Reznor referring to Manson as a clown.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “Breaking the Same Old Ground” might be an odd choice for best song, as this album focuses more on heavy industrial for the most part, but this ballad is simple, real and meaningful. The melody played on the synthesizer is hauntingly beautiful and reminds one of “Cryptorchid” from Antichrist Superstar. The production of the song mixes obviously synthesized drum machine beats with Manson’s raw world-weary voice, a combination that works better on this song than some of the others on the album.
Disposable Track: The questionable lyrics of “Pistol Whipped” make this already mediocre track even more difficult to absorb. The song begins with the lines: “You look so pretty when you cry/ Don’t wanna hit you but the only thing/ Between our love is a bloody nose/ Busted lip and a blackened eye.” Manson is known for his cleaver metaphors and wordplay, and it just feels like he was not even trying on this one. He just wanted to be controversial for the sake of it with no real passion in it. — Colette Claire
06. Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (2000)
This Is the New Take: A recurrent theme of critically evaluating Marilyn Manson’s discography is that so little of it actually sounds like the mental image we all carry of the man’s work. Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) is a keen example of this, featuring a much more direct, polished and art rock-indebted take on his hard rock sound rather than the gothy industrial metal we typically associate with Manson, even despite the dark psychedelia of the cover.
At the time of its release, Holy Wood was considered by many to be a great work, and in many ways it does represent the apex of the sonic and critical ideas he had built his career on up to that point. It’s faults are less internal as much as, in the wake of its release and the surprisingly eloquent and insightful comments Manson made regarding his career-as-project, it shed new light on previous work, effectively elevating it over this one in terms of potency.
Still, the album that featured the debut of guitarist John 5 is no slouch, producing some all-time great songs across its in turns cerebral, psychedelic, occult, and sleazy runtime. The creative tax this record (and, in fairness, its predecessors) had on the group is palpable; this is an expunging, a slurry of doom metal and art pop and glam rock and industrial and hard rock and more blended into a surprisingly heady dose of hard rock intellectualism that never once loses grip on the sleaze and sex that is the pulse of rock ‘n’ roll.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “Coma Black” has stiff competition from songs like “Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis)” and “Cruci-fiction In Space” but inevitably wins out as melodic doom metal-flecked ballad, a tune as lush, heavy and slow to blossom as music by Type O-Negative or My Dying Bride at their peak. The Pink Floyd flanged organ married to the emotive lyric, “I killed myself to make everybody pay,” is Manson at his sickest, darkest, truest. Quintessential Manson.
Disposable Track: “King Kill 33rd Degree” is a lazy song on an album that otherwise doesn’t have much fat. The music isn’t bad, but turning in a Nine Inch Nails pastiche with a cheap title at the tail end of an otherwise immaculately conceived record feels derailing, disrupting the tremendous momentum the album up till that point had accrued for itself. Coming off the heels of the gorgeous “The Fall of Adam” only makes it more frustrating. A solid B-side, but a bad album cut. — Langdon Hickman
05. The Pale Emperor (2015)
This Is the New Take: After a bit of a mid-career slump, Marilyn Manson and company stepped up their game with The Pale Emperor (the title being an obvious nod to David Bowie’s 1970’s persona “The Thin White Duke”) and proved that they still had more to say and were not just a rehash of their past. By this point in the band’s career, it also became clear that Marilyn Manson himself would be the only consistent member of the band.
This is also Manson’s first collaboration with film composer Tyler Bates, whose influence on the song writing is clear — as this album is actually less Bowie and more Johnny Cash. It does deviate from the typical industrial rock on some songs and has even been called “alternative country” by some critics.
While there are bluesy, foot stomping elements influenced by Manson’s time on the show Sons of Anarchy on songs like “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” and “The Devil Beneath My Feet,” other track like “Killing Strangers” and “Deep Six” are not such a wild departure and still maintain the crunchy industrial quality people had come to expect from Marilyn Manson. If anything, this album could be compared to the slower more introspective work on Holy Wood a little more than it can be compared to a country album. In retrospect, this album almost feels like a precursor or warm up to Heaven Upside Down, but it is certainly more cohesive and powerful than previous albums like High End of Low.
Much like on Heaven Upside Down, this album has cut the fat with only ten tight and memorable songs. Marilyn Manson’s main goal has always been to be an amalgamation of popular culture spit back at us with an ugly mirror and on this record, he certainly succeeded.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” is an amazing mix for sh*t-kicking old school country and straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It is almost like an entire song comprised of memorable choruses and no verses. The layers of meaning in the lyrics also help sell it as the stand out on this album with the profound rhetorical question: “Are we fated, faithful, or fatal?” Is this referring to the human race as a whole or just one doomed romantic relationship? Most likely, the answer is both.
Disposable Track: “Slave Only Dreams To Be King” isn’t a bad song, but it sounds like an amalgamation of several other Marilyn Manson songs found on previous albums. It is the least memorable song on The Pale Emperor, as it veers into a clunky beat eerily similar to Portrait of an American Family’s “Dope Hat”. — Colette Claire
04. Mechanical Animals (1998)
This Is the New Take: It’s improper to refer to Mechanical Animals as merely Manson-does-Bowie. Certainly, elements of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars are in there, as well as more than a helping of Station to Station, but there’s also the hi-tech rock of Roxy Music, the sleek glitz of early (pre-ambient) Brian Eno solo work, and a dash of the same melange of art-rock influences contained in groups like Smashing Pumpkins. We may have a singular aesthetic associated with Marilyn Manson as a group and a performer, but the band contains a richer depth of understanding of the history of rock music than it typically shows, and in alignment with history, this was not only their third album but their third entirely new sonic and visual aesthetic.
It continues the same symbolic arch of their previous album, Antichrist Superstar, and would be continued on Holy Wood, but in terms of internal thematics it’s a reversal, a snipe not at broader society but at the mall goth contingent that seemed to be misunderstanding the whole point of the enterprise, a pratfall of character-based theatrical rock experienced as far back as Alice Cooper and the aforementioned Bowie.
If there were more albums like this in his canon, enough to make this not feel like an intriguing outlier, it would undoubtedly rank higher; as is, however, in some ways it is his best album, but also the one that fits least in his canon, making it unconscionable to crack the Top 3 or to slip near the bottom. He’s been more himself, but he’s never been more strange.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “Great Big White World” is not only the best song on the record but one of the best songs in Manson’s career. In truth, any of the tracks from the perspective of Alpha could qualify, but in terms of an explosive opening presaging a totally different experience, “Great Big White World” ranks up there with some of the best opening tracks of all time, exploring electronic, glam and art rock in a powerful vision of an alternate universe’s Marilyn Manson.
Disposable Track: In truth there are a few tracks that feel like they contribute little to the proceedings and could thus quality, but “The Dope Show” is perhaps the most obviously bad song on the album, despite being the lead single. It is a thesis statement of the Omega portions of the album, certainly, but it is so on-the-nose that it lacks the Thin White Duke-esque sense of glammed up abusive evil that later tracks like “Fundamentally Loathsome” or “I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)” bring. — Langdon Hickman
03. Heaven Upside Down (2017)
This Is the New Take: Heaven Upside Down, Marilyn Manson’s most recent release to date, is one of the strongest in the band’s entire catalog. It appears that Marilyn Manson took a lesson from the past and kept Heaven Upside Down to a tidy 10 songs. There’s no filler on this album. This is Marilyn Manson’s second effort working with film composer Tyler Bates, whom Manson met working on the TV series Californication. The collaboration between the two has garnered some interesting results, while still capturing the essence of Marilyn Manson.
The album goes through a range of styles: The fun and sleezy “Kill4Me”, an industrial rock anthem with a disco beat (which is accompanied by an equally fun and sleazy video featuring famous Hollywood actor Johnny Depp doing some very questionable things); the heavy and disturbing “We Know Where You F**king Live”, reminiscent of Antichrist-era aggression on the guitars and drums; and the slow and gothy “Saturnalia”, a tribute to the passing of his father, with a decidedly Bauhaus influenced sound.
Despite this variance in styles, Heaven Upside Down is cohesive. It is an exercise in contradiction as it is raw and aggressive, while simultaneously being polished and well produced. Another gem on this album is the hauntingly beautiful “Blood Honey”, a powerful, piano driven ballad that prominently features Manson’s famous half screamed, half sung, pain-soaked vocals. While many Marilyn Manson albums wander off toward the end, the title track, “Heaven Upside Down”, and “Threats of Romance” end this album on a high note as these songs are both catchy and disturbing as only Marilyn Manson can be.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: While Heaven Upside Down is really best listened to all the way through, “Say10” is certainly one of the standout tracks proving that Marilyn Manson is at his best when he’s being controversial and pissing people off. This was almost the title track before the album’s name was changed to Heaven Upside Down. It features a bluesy and heavy chorus with Manson’s always cleaver word play as he chants “Satan,” oh wait, “say 10,” repeatedly.
Disposable Track: Really there is no worst song on this album, but if one has to pick it would be “Jesus Crisis”, mainly because the opening lines: “ I write songs to fight and to f*ck to/ If you wanna fight then I’ll fight you/ If you wanna f*ck I will f*ck you/ Make up your mind, or I’ll make it up for you” seem to be disturbing just for the sake of it and are not really saying anything meaningful. — Colette Claire
02. Portrait of an American Family (1994)
This Is the New Take: It’s easy to forget, in the years that have since passed, that the first thing the world heard of Marilyn Manson was a solid, ripping rock record. Portrait of an American Family is way more focused on sexy, swaggering groove than on the creepy goth/industrial hybrids that would quickly overtake his work, and while those records are certainly great, they’ve since overshadowed for many people this piece of more direct and joyous rock music. It also demonstrates that, behind the affect of serial killer and pin-up imagery and all of the shock and the glitz, there are and were songs.
The album is complete with tight and charming pop numbers, punched up with rock guitars, a deep sense of pocket, and a wider and more charismatic range than we typically associate with the more monochromatic periods of Manson’s discography. This was, it would turn out, the last hurrah for this phase of the group’s lifespan, the masterwork of years of playing in bars and clubs before turning their eye to substantially more theatrically compelling work. But in terms of producing music that sits somewhere between early Mr. Bungle and Rob Zombie’s mutual spastic sexy carnival from hell aesthetic, it’s a record that still endlessly compels.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: “Organ Grinder” balances a motorik groove with arhythmic organ like a melting ice cream truck, leaning heavy enough into a backbeat and White Zombie-pinched vocal affect to make the entire proceedings feel like a brief tunnel into an erotic corner of hell. And when the heavy bridging riff kicks in, that’s heaven. Structurally it’s a bit simpler than other songs on the album, sounding almost like Kyuss, and nails each of its ideas.
Disposable Track: “Cake and Sodomy” may have singed eyebrows in its time, but in the passing of years it feels more puerile than truly shocking. Front-loading the album with that track also doesn’t do the broader album any favors, which is much more focused on a psychedelic swaggering rock groove than the relatively cheap feeling opening song portrays. — Langdon Hickman
01. Antichrist Superstar (1996)
This Is the New Take: Marilyn Manson and his eponymous band have released solid music throughout his career, but Antichrist Superstar is the best of the bunch. Antichrist Superstar contains all the elements that would come to define Marilyn Manson: Dirty guitars offset by creepy, synth laden melodies; Manson’s groggy voice spitting out controversial commentary on American society and personal emotional pain; anthemic choruses, groovy bass and catchy but heavy industrial beats.
The album took off partly because of the now classic single “The Beautiful People”, but the album also boasts gems such as the eerie and introspective “Man That You Fear”; the heavy in your face “Angel with the Scabbed Wings”; the groovy “Deformography”; and the short but beautifully unique “Cryptorchid”. Antichrist Superstar was released as the follow up to 1995’s Smells Like Children EP (which is not technically an album, so it is not on this list) featuring the band’s dark cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Marilyn Manson was quick to utilize the notoriety garnered by the success of the cover, and Antichrist Superstar was released shortly thereafter in 1996. This catapulted the band from an underground oddity discovered by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor to a force to be reckoned with on its own.
While Antichrist Superstar has many metal moments like “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” and “1996”, songs like “Tourniquet” and “Minute of Decay” also proved that Marilyn Manson could even make a rock ballad sound creepy. With a sound and aesthetic that was decidedly opposed to grunge, Antichrist Superstar’s popularity solidified industrial metal as a mainstream genre, and Marilyn Manson as the 1990s poster child for teenage rebellion.
The Beautiful Pinnacle: All of the songs on Antichrist Superstar are strong, but “The Reflecting God” really stands out. It is a perfect blend of all the elements that make Marilyn Manson great. It opens with a groovy bass line and creepy keyboards then goes into the epic pre-chorus and hits you in the face with the fast and metal chorus. The quiet break down of the final pre-chorus would echo much of Marilyn Manson’s future catalog.
Disposable Track: The whole album works as a unit, but looking at songs individually, “Wormboy” almost feels like a throwaway from Portrait of an American Family. With its quirky, disjointed musical style, it is a bit simple and clunky in comparison to the others. The song helps propel the narrative of the concept album forward, discussing the lead character’s growth into the antichrist, but really acts as filler before some of the better songs. — Colette Claire