When physical media ruled the earth you could literally listen to an Album so much that it began to self destruct. Scratched and cracked CDs or unspooled, torn apart cassettes were a badge of honor in ones’ collection, proof that music was as vital as the very air we breathe. Broken Records examines these Albums and why they meant so much to us.
1994 was a very strange year for, let’s say, “hard rock” in America. Kurt Cobain’s death signaled the end of the grunge movement, bands like Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine released their best work and began to implode not long after, and Korn’s self titled debut ushered in what would (like it or not) become the dominant force in radio rock by the decade’s end. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor was the King of the mainstream heavy music hill, his Downward Spiral blending Metal’s crunch and Industrial’s buzz with a Pop sensibility that allowed him to just write really fucking catchy songs. It was around this time that Reznor found a kindred spirit in an enfant terrible from Florida that would come to redefine what it meant to be “a big rock and roll star” in the following years.
My first exposure to Marilyn Manson came, of course, from MTV, where I saw the video for Lunchbox one afternoon when I probably should’ve been in school or something. It was one of those transformative moments, I can remember it affecting me the same way that Smells Like Teen Spirit did a few years earlier. The colorful but dark imagery, the contact lens, lip ring, tattoos, the bullied child violently rising against his oppressors. Not to mention the music. Manson’s raspy, not-quite-rapping delivery, the sarcastic, self deprecating “I’ll show them one day” content of the lyrics. The distorted guitars bumping up against the squeal of the electronics and odd samples. For better or worse, I was hooked.
That weekend I picked up a cassette copy of Portrait of an American Family during a routine trip to the mall. Upon bringing it home and listening to it I was even more convinced that this was my new favorite band. I was young enough to be somewhat sensationalized by the lyrical content but smart enough to understand the socio-political stance that Manson was taking. Cake and Sodomy’s album opening declaration of ‘I am the God of Fuck” wasn’t just Manson peacocking for shock value but calling out Televangelists and other religious zealots whose squeaky clean public personae usually hid disturbingly sexual skeletons in the closet. Get Your Gunn similarly mocked the hypocrisy of violent Abortion protestors, and Wrapped in Plastic laid low the virtues of ‘50’s style “nuclear” family values.
It wasn’t all heavy social commentary though, as a latchkey kid who watched a lot of dumbass old TV shows I recognized the samples and lyrics to Dope Hat as references to Sid and Marty Krofft’s 70’s drug freakout of a kids’ show Lidsville, and of course the Willy Wonka homage in Prelude (The Family Trip). I also appreciated the weirdness for weirdness’ sake of tracks like My Monkey and the Scooby Doo inspired Misery Machine.
Manson’s star continued to rise throughout the decade, first gaining widespread mainstream attention with the cover of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) featured on 1995’s B-side, Remix and Oddity collection Smells Like Children. At this point I felt the need to defend myself more and more about being a Manson fan. High School Lunchroom rumors abounded, Manson had a rib removed so he could fellate himself, Manson threw a kitten off the stage and refused to play until the audience killed it, Manson was the kid who played Paul in The Wonder Years. All bullshit of course. My fandom made me the de-facto Manson expert amongst both friends and strangers. I’m sure my weird asshole eyeliner and nail polish sporting 15 year old self loved the attention, but it was also kind of exhausting
My devotion to Manson peaked just as his career did with 1997’s Antichrist Superstar. With his darkest, heaviest, angriest and best record yet, there was no place to go but down. I stuck around for 1998’s glam-tinged Mechanical Animals but lost interest soon after, feeling like his music and message had grown stale with 2000’s Holy Wood.
Manson’s latest record, 2014’s The Pale Emperor, was critically acclaimed as a return to form for the aging Shock Rocker. True, it doesn’t touch his 90’s material but it’s a nice chink of sinewy, nihilistic death rock, with Manson more clever and abstract on the mic than maybe ever. We caught Manson’s recent tour and he’s still got it, making his new and post 2000 material sound great, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t most excited to hear the songs he played off of Antichrist Superstar and Smells Like Children, and that I wasn’t horribly disappointed to not hear anything off of Portrait of an American Family.