When Marilyn Manson — the band — began over a dozen years ago, it was successfully built by fusing Trent Reznor’s industrial-pop vision with Rob Zombie’s B-movie horror show. The sophomore effort, Antichrist Superstar, refined that sound further with a proper dose of heavy metal. Two years later, 1998’s Mechanical Animals mashed glam and hair metal into the same stew with near-perfect results. Unfortunately, the two subsequent studio albums broke that stride: Being scapegoated for the Columbine Massacre produced the scathing Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) response and the lackluster The Golden Age of Grotesque followed three years later. Now, Marilyn Manson — the provocateur — invokes both the (anti)Christ persona and Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland with Eat Me, Drink Me that, like his best work, incites while bordering on parody.
While his best singles are often covers (see “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, “Tainted Love”, “This Is Halloween”, and “Personal Jesus” for starters), Manson’s albums of original material are always remarkably cohesive. Don’t get me wrong, Manson hardly escapes the dangers of concept albums unscathed, but his work often contains a certain self-aware narcissism and self-assured lampoon that somehow softens the weak spots. And Eat Me, Drink Me is no different. This is an album about equating sex with death — most often somehow linked to the vehicular — and the album overflows with both, overtly.
The album opens with “If I Was Your Vampire”, an industri-goth wet dream. Quiet ringing guitars are offset by heavy drums, owing as much musically to the Sisters of Mercy as it does to Nine Inch Nails. And the lyrics are as much Bauhaus as Ministry with talk of “blood-stained sheets in the shape of your heart”. Majestic would be another way to describe it, as drenched in irony-deprived passion, Manson intones “Beyond the pale/ Everything is black/ No turning back.”
The lyrical auto-erotica that begins in the lead-off track (“Drive me off the mountain/ You’ll burn, I’ll eat your ashes/ Impossible wheels seducing our corpse”) continues with the wailing “Just a Car Crash Away” and the stand-out “Are You the Rabbit?”, which harkens back to the glammy guitar feel of Mechanical Animals in the midst of what should be a laughable full-on car metaphor that remarkably works.
In what can only be seen as a way to maintain a buzz with the generation behind, his very public attachment to Evan Rachel Wood is flaunted throughout the peripheral of this release — from his personal artwork to the song and video for the Lolita-inspired first single, “Heart-Shaped Glasses (When the Heart Guides the Hand)”. The song itself is a fantastic piece of militant drum cadence mixed with raw adolescent sexuality in both Manson’s lyrics and delivery. “She’ll never cover up what we did with her dress.”
The blustery guitar of “You and Me and the Devil Makes 3” revels in the repetition of the title alongside the menacing delivery of “There’s not a word for what I want to do to you.” But it’s hard to take any song too seriously when it contains a “Murdercute happyrape” lyrical refrain. Although somewhat lyrically stunted, “The Red Carpet Grave” is the most musically interesting piece on display here. What could best be described as distorted reggae includes a rubbery guitar solo and a sing-song delivery.
Eat Me, Drink Me should return Manson to his former successes, and rightfully so. There is an earnestness in the music designed to speak directly to fucked-up adolescence while often inexplicably foregoing the pander. There is something to be said for knowing where the line is and when to cross it. Call Manson what you will — genius, has-been, shock rocker, freak — but like his best work, Eat Me, Drink Me is as fun as it is cartoonishly scary.