By all indications, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson subscribes to the notion that in order to keep his predominantly young fans' attention, he has to constantly change and remake his look and sound.
For his new album, Mechanical Animals, Manson traded in his ghoulish, gothic, S&M look for a more glamorous one, complete with red hair and blush, redefining himself as the glam-rock king Omega. He also went for a more accessible, rock-oriented sound that lacks many of the dark-metal overtones of its predecessor, Antichrist Superstar (1996).
As the singer has said, he has become more of a Marilyn -- as in the legendary Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe -- than a Manson -- as in the notorious serial-killer Charles Manson.
But with mixed opinions coming in from fans, musicians and other observers, the jury is still out on the workability -- at least from a marketing perspective -- of the latest transformation of the former "Antichrist Superstar."
If nothing else, some view the change as a savvy move. "It's appropriate and smart for him as an entertainer [to change his look]," said former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro, a friend of Manson's, who has developed a reputation for his dark wardrobe and stage makeup.
That sentiment was echoed by Peter Murphy, singer of the recently reunited, seminal '80s goth-rock band Bauhaus. The 41-year-old Murphy, who himself is known for enhancing his appearance with makeup and glammy clothes, also praised the new look as being more eye-pleasing. "Marilyn Manson is a smart, smart sort of kid," said Murphy, who is about to release a solo EP, Recall. "He's plenty obsessed with imagery, so it would only make sense that he would start wearing pretty makeup rather than ugly makeup."
On the other hand, some fans said the change in the bandleader's look was a bit too drastic to go down smoothly with the group's hard-core followers.
"Everybody was so used to the gothic/industrial deal that the glam thing is throwing people off," 18-year-old Manson fan Farah Fima said while waiting outside Tower Records in West Hollywood, Calif., on the night Mechanical Animals went on sale more than two weeks ago. The album went on to nab the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart and is holding strong at #5 in its second week of release.
Despite the shocked reaction some fans may have to the shock-rocker, 18-year-old fan Jason Lott argued that Manson's "post-existential" message hasn't changed. The performer's new look shouldn't even be an issue, he said. "I don't see what the big hubbub is about," Lott wrote in an e-mail. "I've heard numerous fans say that they no longer appreciate Manson's music or message, primarily because of the semi-drastic change in [the band's] fashion sense. I always appreciated Manson for their music, not just the fashion, granted that fashion is a big part of what Marilyn Manson has always been about. The music has always been the most important factor to me."
Though Navarro said he admired Manson's reformed image, he also commented that the complexity of Manson's new look may be harder for fans to copy. Whereas before, a little black lipstick and a charcoal shade of Clairol hair-dye may have sufficed, these days, the look is more involved than a trip to the corner drugstore can easily accommodate.
"There's a new vibe, a new evolution and I just don't know if the kids today will be able to identify with him from where he used to be coming from aesthetically," said Navarro, who is releasing his solo debut, Spread, in early 1999. "The look before was more emulated and easily pulled off by kids, because they do want to look like the people in their lives -- that's part of the sanctity of being a fan."
"I don't know if kids will be able to get fake breasts and different-colored eyes," Navarro added.
At the Alley clothing store in Chicago, which sells a mixture of goth and glam clothing, a sales representative said Manson's new look has had a direct influence on the sale of shiny, glammy clothes in the store.
The women's department clerk, Paula Barnett, said she believes that the younger fans are more influenced by the switch than they were by the older look. "There are a lot of 14-year-old girls coming in and wanting flashy clothes because Marilyn Manson wears them," she said. "But the older fans seem to still be buying the old stuff."
Ted Kissell, an acquaintance of Manson's from his Florida days and staff writer for the Miami New Times, said Manson's new look isn't necessarily more or less controversial than before. "As far as the parent fright-factor, being in-your-face androgynous is only marginally less scary than being satanic, although it's still in his idiom, in terms of the image as part of what he has called the 'big science experiment,' " Kissell, 30, said. "He's just tweaking it."
And while it may take some time for fans to acclimate themselves to the new Manson, Kissell remarked that critics have already warmed up to Manson's more rock-oriented sound.
"It's still appealing to a young audience, yeah, but what's interesting to me is that the critical response is a lot better than the previous one," he said, referring to Antichrist Superstar. "The direction is more in line with the demographics of rock critics and that seems to have made rock critics like him more."