This is music that sounds reasonable on the radio but crumbles under scrutiny.
After gaining pop attention with the shock-rock, Alice Cooper underpinnings of his "Antichrist Superstar" album in 1996, Manson did a lot to earn our respect two years later with "Mechanical Animals," an album whose reflection on the icy isolation and corruption of fame compared favorably with mid-period David Bowie. The tunes were more melodic than the "Antichrist" bunch and the emotions more convincing.
But Manson proved unworthy of that respect when he quickly reverted to pandering, kid-stuff antics during a spring 1999 tour whose level of ambition was best summarized in his frequent mooning of the audience.
In "Holy Wood," Manson doesn't seem to know quite where to turn, as if uncertain which is the right move commercially in a rock world taken over by Limp Bizkit and Eminem.
It sounds reasonable on the radio because Manson reconnects sonically with much of the droning, industrial-rock gloom of "Antichrist," in case that's what his audience really wants. But he holds on to some of the more accessible undercurrents of "Mechanical Animals" (including the Bowie accent) in case that's what will sell.
The subject matter is meant to be heavy--as you can tell from the title and his growling vocals about everything from death and pain to God and the JFK assassination. There is a concept here about violence in America, but the thoughts are obvious and belabored.
Manson has both talent and ambition, so he may yet surprise us with something that lives up to the promise of "Mechanical Animals." But this isn't it.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are due in stores Tuesday.