By the end of the 90’s, Marilyn Manson stirred up enough controversy that people couldn’t stop talking about him. He made sure to keep tongues wagging when the album cover for their 1998 release was revealed. The image of Manson with breasts was shocking and a bit confusing (especially when I was about eight at the time of its release), but those who delved into the album found one of the bands most complex and intricate works yet. It’s still one of their finest and the one that shows how great Manson really is.
Part what makes this LP so complex are the themes and motifs presented here, which are introduced in the opener “Great Big White World.” There’s a lot of space imagery here like “In space the stars are no nearer/They just glitter like a morgue/And I dreamed I was a spaceman/Burned like a moth in a flame/And our world was so fucking gone.” This is something Manson will reference again in songs like “Dissassociative:” “I can never get out of here/I don’t want just float in fear/Dead astronaut in space.” But the images and the heavy music set the tone for the entire album. Things pick up with “The Dope Show,” which has a great funk like groove to it. The way music drones and drags makes you feel like you’re on drugs. Of course it’s one of the band’s biggest hits talking about the high and lows of fame. It’s an amazing song that still resonates today.
Fans must’ve noticed the sonic change on this album. Instead of every track having dirty guitars that rip through you with abrasive songs, the music is either dark and isolated or upbeat. What is different about this album from the previous effort is that this one is not harsh, aggressive, violent, or angry like the last one. There is still darkness to be found in the lyrics, but the music is lighter and even has some electronic elements to it. This is due to the glam influences that compose the record. You can find this on “Rock is Dead.” The music is upbeat and definitely has some glam rock inspiration behind it, especially when he sings “La-la-la-la-la-la.” It’s no secret that the concept for this album is similar to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But while the concept is the same, Manson takes it and makes it his own.
More Bowie influence can be heard the cleverly titled “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)“. Having some similarity to Bowie’s “Fame,” it has this soul sound that’s amped up with the background singers at the end. The music itself has this sleazy vibe, like it should be played in a run down strip club. Manson brings out his finest lyrics condemning “norm life, baby,” mocking behaviors we are raised to follow and believe in. This is part of what makes it such a great song. A similar concept is explored in “New Model No. 15” where Manson comments on the phoniness of society. The upbeat, loud melody makes it sound like a chant, while his reference to a “VCR” sounds a bit dated, but doesn’t really affect the song.
Every track is amazing, but one that really stands out is “Fundamentally Loathsome.” What makes it so different is the music. Instead of taking cues from hard or glam rock, Manson turns to the sound of vintage ballads from the ’20s. You hear it and can picture being played in a smokey, underground club. It’s hard to pin, but it sounds like he has a bit of light rock with some moderate jazz. Also, Manson sings breathlessly about his apathy. The song keeps this mellow tone until the bridge where the guitars make a return for the solo. Still, it never loses that vintage vibe. It’s one of their underrated songs that has the tendency to get buried under the other great tracks here.
While there are some energetic tracks to rock out to, the album is really dark. “Speed of Pain” is one of the most depressing songs here. The lone acoustic guitar, wailing background singers, and distorted vocals make this track sound tortured and eerie. Manson lyrics doesn’t make the outlook any better: “ When you want it/It goes away too fast/Times you hate it/It always seems to last/But just remember when you think/You’re free/The crack inside your fucking heart is me.” It seems to be about wanting to let go of something, but no matter how hard you try you’re stuck with it. This message makes the song all the more isolated and depressing.
The LP even ends on a low note. “The Last Day on Earth” mixes eerie synth and space-like sounds to add to this already somber track. There are a lot of great lyrics here but the one that stands out the most is the opening : “Yesterday was a million years ago/In all my past lives I’ve played an asshole.” The rest of it references the obvious: it’s the last day on Earth, but you don’t get the chance to say good-bye to those important to you. The powerful “Coma White” ends the album with more haunting imagery and music. Even the distinctive guitar riff feels and sounds cold and empty. It’s about how even when we have all these drugs available to us, sometimes it’s not enough to save someone. The sadness deepens when you learn the song is actually about a friend of the singer’s that was addicted to drugs and committed suicide. It’s probably one of the band’s most acclaimed and moving songs in their catalog for a good reason. It’s sure to strike within those who hear it.
Overall, this album gets 10/10. It’s one of the best if not the best album recorded by the band so far. It differs from their more aggressive and hard sounding music, but it’s still heavy nonetheless. If anything this album shows how the band actually has talent and isn’t full of shock rock tactics and isn’t all about screaming at the top of their lungs about how awful the world is. It’s also a really dark, depressing record. You hear it and wonder what Manson was going through at the time. It’s a record that will forever be remembered for a number of reason, the most prominent being it’s fucking amazing.