For the best part of a decade, journalists have struggled to describe the phenomenon that is Marilyn Manson – be it the person (born Brian Warner) or the band to which he has lent his stage name. To begin with, Warner was a crazy, satanic troublemaker. He was then an enigma, and then a genius. In a handful of years he sold millions of albums and pissed off countless right-wing Americans. No one knew quite how seriously to take him. Says Warner by way of explanation, “Every perception anyone may have had of me fits into what I’m supposed to be, because I’m an ever-evolving idea.”
Evolving he may be, but today, the weight of decreasing sales and the loss of his controversial edge has made Marilyn Manson’s act seem forced, even ludicrous. The question is no longer How do we interpret Manson: it’s Why bother? On the back of what is arguably Warner’s most derivative and uninspiring release to date, The Golden Age of Grotesque, the Manson touring circus is descending once again. For many followers of his work, this live show will confirm one of two things: that he’s been taking it easy in recent years, or that he’s simply run out of ideas.
When Manson first came to the public’s attention, it was in a blaze of hellfire, political incorrectness and animal blood. Emerging out of Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails entourage, Warner made dark, twisted rock music oozing with social commentary and disturbing notions. He courted controversy, basking in the attention it afforded him, while those who heard his music trod the line between fascination and disgust.
Warner had left a career in journalism behind (“I became a rock-journalist for a brief period of time because I was a fan of music,” he says, “and then I became Marilyn Manson because I was a fan of music”), taking with him the valuable knowledge of what put the rock ‘n’ roll industry on edge. This insider information was a better marketing tool than anyone could have imagined, but – at least in the beginning – Warner was driven, not by sales, but by his own grand self-belief. “I was more concerned with making a mark on the world,” he says, “and becoming a part of history, as somebody who said and did all the things they were afraid to say and do when they were a kid growing up. I admired people like David Bowie and Madonna, and I wanted to do something that was on the same level as them.”
It is, perhaps, Manson’s steadfast belief in his own importance that ultimately has been his downfall. “First and foremost,” he continues, “I hope people understand that my music carries in the tradition of other great rock-n-roll stars that are very few and far between these days. I don’t consider myself to have too many peers in the modern music industry. I’m inspired to try and be different and stand out as much as possible.
“Making this record,” he says, “I was inspired by the spirit of where a lot of things originated from, rather than being inspired by hip-hop. This record has a lot of the flavour of the ’20s and ’30s, but it’s been distorted through my vision. It’s about taking the spirit of that time, and not the literal sound of that time. It was something that I was into in my personal life, and so it seemed a natural place for the inspiration to come from. I didn’t have to think of a specific sound that I was going for. I just sat down and asked myself: ‘where do I go from here?’ And the first song on the album answers that question.”
That song is “This is the New Shit,” and it does answer the question rather eloquently – Manson is going nowhere. Behind a slightly deceptive title (this music isn’t new, but it certainly is shit) lies more of the same. Few thought they’d see the day that Marilyn Manson conformed, but it seems as though he has – to his own expectations. In the end, though, does he care what people think of him?
“Well, perception is part of what Marilyn Manson is,” he says, “because I live my art. How people see me is also how people see my music, or my paintings, or my videos, or whatever I might do •because I’m all about expressionism, about being a dandy, about showing the world my imagination. There’s no such thing as misunderstanding or misconceiving, because I want everyone to understand me differently, whether they hate it or they love it.”
Marilyn Manson: http://www.marilynmanson.com