On his third album, Marilyn Manson rises from the confining coffin of industrial-gloom rock and shoots for the glittery starscape of glam. Working for the first time without producer and mentor Trent Reznor, Manson and his band mesh the role of ghoulish shock-rockers with the flamboyant allure of pomp and platforms. Here, songs swagger with lipstick-wearing attitude, have fun with sleazy subject matter and actually convey some (gasp) human emotion.
Though 1996's "Antichrist Superstar" accompanied Manson on his rise to fame, it often seemed a mere accessory to the singer's compelling media image. "Mechanical Animals" finds the music catching up with the man.
Space themes, drug metaphors and ambiguous sex references drive this 14-track album, and they prove more colorful and titillating than Manson's antisocial manifestoes of the past.
There's heartbreak: "Just remember when you think you're free, that crack inside your [expletive] heart is me."
There's even humor: "I don't like the drugs, but the drugs like me" (in a song aptly guest-starring guitarist Dave Navarro, who has had his own, highly publicized drug problems).
The lyrics ride atop strong music--another surprise from Manson. Where tunes on his last album were sonically interesting--full of sinister effects, processed vocals and computerized mutations--they weren't indelible enough to thrive outside their nihilistic trimmings.
Here, compelling melody, foot-stomping rhythms, sing-along choruses and more relatable lyrics in such songs as "New Model No. 15" and "Rock Is Dead" are as infectious as the Sweet's "Blockbuster" or Alice Cooper's "School's Out."
Manson actually sings here too, rather than just scream, hiss or drone. His voice (very up front in the mix now) is sometimes high and androgynous, then rich and campy, and he provides a plethora of bizarre-sounding backup vocals, creating a sort of freaky, the-voices-are-in-your-head effect.
This album is the first time we actually experience Manson as a band, not a phenomenon filtered through Reznor's mixing board wizardry or a freak show accompanied by a soundtrack. An album that's powerful from start to finish is far more surprising than any controversial Manson high jinks.
Despite its title, "Mechanical Animals" drips with the seedy sexuality and plush velvet feel that's been absent from '90s rock, and it reminds us of the primal and wonderfully ridiculous elements that are lacking in indie rock and electronica.
However you choose to look at the adaptable Manson--as the seventh sign of the Apocalypse, fodder for Jerry Springer or the revivalist of subversive, gender-bending rock--this record ensures his further infiltration of teenage America and earns him a new spot in the annals of great, big, pompous pop albums.
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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips