Loving The Alien

In an age of dead spectacle, Manson chooses glam-rock, in its original '70s and electronic '80s versions, as his musical inspiration on Mechanical Animals.

The release of Mechanical Animals will cause great consternation among those critics of Rev. Manson who've claimed he is nothing more than a Trent Reznor acolyte, due to the NIN man's work on the band's breakthrough Antichrist Superstar album. Yet the evidence presented here is overwhelmingly for a judgement in favor of Manson, as he presents the bookend to the aforementioned breakthrough disc. If Antichrist was the man's artistic depiction of the apocalypse, of the calamity that occurred while nearly everyone slept, then Mechanical Animals is Manson's portrayal of the post-apocalypse earth, a place where the living dead stumble, doped and confused, through a vacant routine which is not actual life, but rather a virtual approximation thereof: a world of "Mechanical Animals."

As opposed to the more Reznoresque electro-groovy orientation of Antichrist, Manson makes good on his promise here to deliver a more song-oriented album. David Bowie, T. Rex and Gary Numan all hover here as influences, as Manson highlights his abilities as a lyricist (which were evident but perhaps sometimes lost, in the sonic cacophony of the previous album). Renaming themselves Omega & The Mechanical Animals a la Bowie's rocking aliens, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Manson and company here survey a cold, dead landscape symbolized by the repeated use of the terms "white" (for blandness, spiritual inertia) and "coma" (for the mental state induced by TV and advertising).

Omega and company, then, arrive on a "Posthuman" earth just in time to play in the ruins. While others may try to sustain themselves with the media approximation of life and excitement via MTV, Oprah, steroids and sex scandals from Albert to Clinton, Omega/Manson sees only much sound and fury signifying nothing -- "All that glitters is cold" he sings in disgust. On the forlorn and strikingly melodic "Disassociative," one of the album's best tracks, Manson provides a sequel to Bowie's "Space Oddity" and "Ashes To Ashes," with the twist that technology has now rendered earth itself the equivalent of the alienated outer space inhabited by the stranded Major Tom -- inner space is now as empty and arid as outer space. "Sometimes we walk like/we were shot through our heads my love" Manson croons ghoulishly. "I can never get out of here/I don't want to just float in fear/A dead astronaut in space."

Ironically, then, in an age of dead spectacle, Manson chooses glam-rock, in its original '70s and electronic '80s versions(think Numan, Soft Cell), as his musical inspiration on Mechanical Animals. Producers Michael Beinhorn and Manson construct a huge aural soundscape that Marc Bolan could only have dreamed of for high-stepping numbers like "The Dope Show," which musically poses the question: "What does it mean when everyone is a star in a bad B-movie?" Omega and company also chide those who think they can rise above the fray by acting holier than thou (also known as Republicans) on the monstrously funky "I Don't Like The Drugs, But The Drugs Like Me," which again depicts an Orwellian "white" world of complicitous hypocrisy: "Norm life baby/Our God is white and unforgiving/We're piss-tested and we're praying," Manson growls. Especially prescient, in light of the ongoing Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, is the singer's observation: "We're quitters and we're sober/Our confessions will be televised." Such is the dystopia conjured on Mechanical Animals of a zombie planet where the line between public and private behavior has been erased in the name of techno surveillance and cookie cutter conformity.

Finally, despite its moments of high energy which serve to belie the sentiments found here on "Rock Is Dead," the anger which pervaded Antichrist gives way to a more elegiac feeling on Mechanical Animals' closer, "Coma White." Musically, a cross between Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper, the song pulls the veil away to reveal the horror, the void that lies just behind the numbing diet of pills and TV with which we stupify ourselves on a daily basis in the name of happiness. "A pill to make you numb/A pill to make you dumb/A pill to make you anybody else," Manson sings. "But all the drugs in this world/won't save her from herself."

The revenge of the human upon the mechanical animal, as it turns out, is death.