Welcome to the "shocking" world of Marilyn Manson--a pop circus where the clowns combine the names of media icons and serial killers (Twiggy Ramirez, Madonna Wayne Gacy) and spew out humorless Four-And-A-Half Inch Nails tunes. Their live shows are supposedly raucous affairs where sexual and religious taboos are shattered in a barrage of sex simulations and blasphemous obscenity--antics that we've seen for about 25 years now. A little bit of KISS, a dash of Gwar, a pinch of Ministry, and some Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Manson himself is a man who can't stand against his own contradictions. He attacks television, false idols, and organized religion--yet his MTV-tailored videos and watered-down industrial metal address an audience that is TV-bred, worships pop idols, and has, more or less, a uniform belief system dictated by its music collection. Even his stab at religion is not very convincing since he's a reverend in Anton LaVey's Church of Satan.
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The five band members probably picture themselves as fierce, provocative artists who shake the status quo and enlighten the masses. They try to sound angry and visceral, but their horror schlock comes off as thin as a made-for-TV Stephen King adaptation--not so much because they lack the costumes and props, but because there's nothing original in the script. As far as intensity goes, they pale in comparison to more accomplished misanthropes like Ministry. Their appeal is the equivalent of wearing a T-shirt with a silly slogan like "Why be normal?"
Musically, there is very little here that hasn't already been shoved into the collective ear by Trent Reznor, who, incidentally, co-produced this amusingly foul mess of cliches. "Tourniquet" sounds like a good Alice Cooper song (compliment), and "Cryptochild" has an interestingly twisted arrangement. Finally, "Man That You Fear" is poignant and cohesive and escapes--temporarily--the post-apocalyptic mumbo jumbo of the rest of Superstar.
Then again, the music itself may not be important to the legions of suburban adolescents desperate for identity. Marilyn Manson's shtick is full of faux taboo and false aggression, and the kids will lap it up. Antichrist Superstar is already high up the Billboard Top 10--along with Celine Dion. As Jane's Addiction succinctly put it a few years back, Nothing's Shocking. Unless, of course, you loudly play this album to your granny.