Marilyn Manson Overview:
Marilyn Manson is both the name of a rock band and its frontman, but whichever of the two entities you’re referring to, it is a moniker associated with controversial, sometimes shocking hard rock and metal music. In the 1990s, Manson was a lightning rod for conservative watchdog groups, and he reveled in his skill at pushing the envelope. The downside to Manson’s provocative album covers and bizarre appearance was that his songs often took a backseat to his outrageous persona, but in terms of continuing rock ‘n’ roll’s tradition of offending authority, he was one of the art form’s most memorable troublemakers.
Marilyn Manson's Origins:
Born Brian Warner in 1969, Marilyn Manson created his stage name as a combination of two celebrities’ names: Marilyn Monroe
and Charles Manson
. When he was 18, Manson moved from Ohio to Florida, becoming interested in forming a rock band. The band was briefly called Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids before simply going by the name Marilyn Manson. The personnel would continue to shift throughout the band’s career, with Manson being the one constant in the lineup.
A 'Portrait' of Things to Come:
After attracting the interest of Nine Inch Nails
’ Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson signed with Reznor’s Nothing record label. In 1994, the band released their first album, Portrait of an American Family
. The band had already established its extreme onstage persona – male musicians performing in dresses, handmade pyrotechnics – and Portrait
had the same mixture of shock and silliness. Overseen by Reznor, the album was full of metal rumblings, but the songs were more calculating than legitimately disturbing. Portrait
was a cult item at the time, setting the stage for Marilyn Manson’s more successful provocations to come.
Becoming the 'Antichrist Superstar':
The 1995 outtakes collection Smells Like Children
helped raise Marilyn Manson’s profile when his creepy cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” became a radio hit. A year later, Manson capitalized on that notoriety with Antichrist Superstar
, a confident tour of goth, industrial and metal styles that superbly merged sensationalism and songwriting. Led by the sneering single “The Beautiful People,” Antichrist Superstar
quickly went platinum and confirmed that he was the new boogieman of popular music, replacing aging shock-rockers like Alice Cooper
and Ozzy Osbourne
Going Androgynous for 'Mechanical Animals':
Forever the chameleon, Marilyn Manson wasn’t content to sit tight after Antichrist Superstar
. Breaking ranks with his mentor Trent Reznor, Manson returned in 1998 with Mechanical Animals
, another shocking record but in completely different ways than its predecessor. Recreating himself as an androgynous alien, the Manson of Mechanical Animals
evoked the 1970s glam-rock of David Bowie
for a series of songs about decadence that was sonically more accessible than Antichrist
’s darker textures, leading to his first No. 1 album. He was a pariah among conservative groups, but his cultural status was at an all-time high.
The Backlash Begins:
By the time Marilyn Manson released 2000’s Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)
, a backlash had started to form against him. The 1999 Columbine shooting
led to complaints that “evil” groups such as Marilyn Manson had contributed to the teenagers’ homicidal tendencies. Manson’s popularity never fully recovered, and while Holy Wood
received positive reviews, it failed to attract audiences in the same amounts as his previous records had.
A Decline in Popularity:
Three years after Holy Wood
, Manson returned with The Golden Age of Grotesque
, his second No. 1 album. Despite that achievement, Golden Age
continued Marilyn Manson’s downward commercial spiral. No matter what guises he tried, Manson simply wasn’t able to reclaim the shock novelty of his best ‘90s records. Ironically, his next record, Eat Me, Drink Me
, proved to be an artistic comeback, ending up as one of 2007’s best rock albums
. Unfortunately, many of his earlier fans seemed less interested with his more recent musical exploits.
'The High End of Low':
In February 2009, Marilyn Manson announced that his next album would be called The High End of Low
. The title, according to Manson, referred to “a self-described state of being that I’m in.” The first single was “I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies.” The High End of Low
was released on May 26, 2009, after which Marilyn Manson prepared to headline
the summer-long Rockstar Mayhem Festival.
After The High End of Low
, Manson and Interscope Records parted ways. Undaunted, the artist returned in 2012 with Born Villain
, which featured a cameo from Johnny Depp.
Essential Marilyn Manson Album:
A feast of horror-show theatrics, Antichrist Superstar
borrowed a page from Marilyn Manson’s champion, Trent Reznor – it’s impossible to listen to this album without thinking of the profound influence The Downward Spiral
had on it. (This makes sense, of course, since Reznor helped produce Antichrist
.) But Manson’s ability to craft ghoulish vocals helps create an otherworldly persona that feels truly demented and amoral. Bouncing around from new wave to metal, Antichrist Superstar
is high-grade performance art. Even if you’re too old to get freaked out by Marilyn Manson’s shenanigans, this album remains his most musically captivating.
Marilyn Manson Discography:
Portrait of an American Family
Smells Like Children
The Last Tour on Earth
(live album) (1999)
Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)
The Golden Age of Grotesque
Lest We Forget: The Best Of
Eat Me, Drink Me
The High End of Low