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Marilyn Manson
The Last Tour on Earth

God Is in the T.V.

There isn't really much point in releasing a live Marilyn Manson album. Sure, the freak puts on a great show, but it's got little to do with the music. Manson's live performances are thrilling because of the visuals -- the singer typically goes through as many costume changes as Cher and confronts his audiences with physically demanding (and often highly erotic) choreography.

That said, The Last Tour on Earth, Manson's first live album, has little going for it. You can hear the audience cheer in the middle of "Great Big White World," and songs like "Sweet Dreams" and "The Dope Show" (recorded in Cleveland) sound a bit rawer than their studio versions. Manson also mocks his protesters during a short tirade at the beginning of "Lunchbox," but it's not like he does an unplugged segment or really rearranges any material. The addition of one new track, "Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes" -- yet another meditation on the coming millennium -- doesn't redeem the album.

God Is in the T.V., A collection of videos and live footage (including "uncensored" backstage footage from Manson's last tour), makes more sense. You can see Manson's (d)evolution from a pasty white Anthony Kiedis look-alike in "Lunchbox" into a glamorous drag queen in "The Dope Show." Nearly all the videos are provocative -- Manson enacts a parody of the JFK assassination in "Coma White," scrawls satanic gibberish on blood-stained walls in "Tourniquet," and stumbles around on stilts in "The Beautiful People," all the while turning his tattooed body into a grotesque work of art. "I wanna grow up/I wanna be a big rock and roll star" Manson screams in "Lunchbox." The backstage footage -- which mostly consists of him cursing at either his road crew or his fans -- confirms that, while he's become a rock star, he still hasn't grown up. -- Jeff Niesel

Ani DiFranco
To the Teeth
(Righteous Babe)

On last year's Little Plastic Castles, folk singer Ani DiFranco whined about being so caught up in the media spotlight that she didn't have her privacy anymore. Two albums later -- after an onslaught of press has helped elevate her hip quotient and push record sales even higher -- she's railing against society's upper class as if she were still an unknown, struggling bohemian and not an indie label head.

DiFranco is not oblivious to the contradictory nature of her current position -- in a letter to Ms. magazine, she explains, "So here I am, publicly morphing into some kinda Fortune 500-young-entrepreneur-from-hell, and all along I thought I was just a folk singer." And she admits being conflicted about her success in "Wish I May," a song in which she declares, "This is not who I meant to be/This is not how I meant to feel" as a wah-wah guitar and a tinkling piano plays softly in the background. Is she saying that having her dreams come true is unfulfilling? While its meaning is confusing, the song's quiet honesty, nicely assisted by the voices of a boys' choir, makes it a moving confession.

Although uneven, To the Teeth is nothing less than thought-provoking. DiFranco channels her intensity into a baker's dozen of songs that are less about making a manifesto (except for the title track) and more about searching internally. DiFranco fills the songs with everything from Wurlitzer organ and brass and woodwinds to banjos and staccato drum 'n' bass loops -- the latter two in the same cut ("The Arrivals Gate").

She also gives herself quite a vocal workout. Revisiting her penchant for occasional dissonance, her vocals on "Freakshow" resemble a Johnny Clegg-like chant. On "Going Once," her chanteuse delivery and the song's semi-resigned, late-night-jazz-club trumpet warble provide a feeling of vulnerability. Maceo Parker's irresistible sax and Corey Parker's rap seamlessly seal "Swing." After a couple of missteps (i.e., Little Plastic Castles and this year's earlier studio effort Up Up Up Up Up Up), it sounds like DiFranco's on track again. -- Lynne Margolis

Master P
Only God Can Judge Me
(No Limit)

All the money in the world can't buy Master P an NBA gig. First, the Charlotte Hornets cut him, then the Toronto Raptors sent him walking, and now he's floundering with a minor-league team called the "Stingrays." While he's anything but a master of the roundball, Master P has got game when it comes to marketing records. His No Limit empire grosses so much that he's one of the 40 richest young men in America, and with a steady stream of new releases reaching the Top 10 every month, he could very well build his own supreme basketball team.

His success is all the more astonishing when you consider that, by now, the product rolling off his assembly-line studio in New Orleans all sounds the same. From the eyeball-grabbing cover art to the tired, robotic mix of gangsta tales that fill 75 repetitive minutes of nearly every disc, No Limit has become an interchangeable cadre of friends and family members. It's tough to decipher a No Limit album on songs alone -- without the title telling you whose record it is, you would really have no clue whose album it might be, since Master P crams everybody on the roster onto each CD.

He usually reserves the best players and material for himself, and Only God Can Judge Me, the latest product bearing his moniker, is no exception. And while no one will mistake it for The Chronic, or even the new Ol' Dirty Bastard album, it is better than recent stink bombs from faceless No Limit soldiers like Magic and Mac. And by arming himself with just a few outsiders -- Jermaine Dupri (who guests on "Da Ballers," one of P's all-time tightest tracks) and Nas join label faithfuls Mystikal, C-Murder, and Silkk tha Shocker, among others -- this may be Master P's, and No Limit's, definitive year-end statement. It's a rumination on devotion, loyalty, and trust, a passion play on faith at the end of the century. And if the street stories of guns, vengeance, and bitch-fucking are a bit on the hypocritical side, well, welcome to P's world. The best tracks here -- the uncharacteristically melodic "Step to Dis" and "Say Brah" -- make no apologies for the greed, wealth, or ego. In fact, they power them, with their mogul leader grinning a gold-toothed smile all the way to the bank. -- Michael Gallucci

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