When Marilyn Manson announced retirement plans back in 2005, it sounded like a smart move. Here was a cultural icon who had incited conservative ire and peddled subversive — if stridently adolescent — rebellion with a cerebral edge for more than a decade. It's an ambitious level of achievement for someone working inside the goth-metal genre.
Manson's increasing interest in visual art — including his own well-received macabre watercolors and proposed cinematic collaborations with controversial French director Gaspar Noé — appeared to be leading the Antichrist Superstar toward a fresh creative perspective. At the very least, it was saving him from becoming an unintentional parody of himself.
Unfortunately, Manson wasn't really ready to leave rock and roll behind. Instead, he returned last year with Eat Me, Drink Me — an abysmally timid, misguided, and utterly glossy collection of lightweight pop metal. It's such a disappointing work that it makes you forget that Manson was once an aggressively intelligent and talented artist.
Accompanied solely by guitarist, engineer, and spooky sound-effects generator Tim Skold, Manson sounds downright confused on Eat Me, Drink Me. The duo sticks to a course of simplistic, sporadically catchy pop and lonesome power balladry — all of which gets muddy when Manson strays toward reggae (in "The Red Carpet Grave") and full-tilt '80s cheese (evident throughout, due in large part to Skold's hammy, meandering guitar solos).
Instead of looking for new subjects to vivisect, Manson descends into a fatal combination of myopic melodrama and hackneyed sentimentality, singing lines like "You taste like valentines, and we cry/You're like a birthday/I should have picked the photograph/It lasted longer than you" (which comes from the ultra-blah "Putting Holes in Happiness").
The God of Fuck owes his audience an explanation of how he hit this point. But it sounds like his creative compass is so warped — either by a broken heart, the degenerative effects of long-term drug use, or both — that he is truly lost.
This was decidedly not the case when Manson started out. Antichrist Superstar was a brash mission statement in 1996 — brimming with indictments of beautiful people, declarations of unrepentant depravity, and a lucid cycle-of-life narrative that hinted at aspirations to a Bowie-like self-made mythology. Two years later, Mechanical Animals unleashed a futuristic glamfest that fine-tuned the musicianship, bolstering Manson's confessionals about drug use, the cult of celebrity, and spiritual reinvention.
As the millennium arrived, he continued to be a relatively articulate artist. He even offered compassionate reflections about the teenage killers in Michael Moore's gun-culture documentary, Bowling for Columbine. His last new offering before all this retirement talk started, 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque, wasn't anywhere near groundbreaking. But it was a stylish effort that explored Manson's fascination with the proto-goth vaudeville scene of 1930s Berlin. If he had to go out on this album, it was a shrewd effort — a lusty, loud, and lavish swan song that set the stage for a second act as a filmmaker or painter.
What compelled Manson to return to the recording studio isn't entirely clear. But there's no denying that the need for therapy after his divorce from burlesque diva Dita Von Teese was a factor — as was his rebound with 19-year-old actress Evan Rachel Wood.
Identified by Manson as his new, Lolita-esque muse, Wood is purportedly the inspiration behind Eat Me, Drink Me's centerpiece, "Heart-Shaped Glasses," a complete distillation of what makes the album ring so hollow. The song features an anemic keyboard line and a lover's lament that reads like high-school poetry. It's so bad, it could have been penned by one of Manson's starstruck pubescent fans.
While good breakup records are almost always marked by naked self-analysis, brutal life-lessons learned, or vitriolic revenge fantasies, the bad ones are mired in self-pity or come off as clichéd tales of woe. Songs like "You and Me and the Devil Makes Three" and "If I Was Your Vampire" place Eat Me, Drink Me squarely in the latter category.
More specifically, lyrics like "The legends get older/But I stay the same/As long as you have less to say" illuminate exactly why this previously provocative performance artist is now officially past his prime. Marilyn Manson should've just kept his mouth shut.