You wear your ruins well
Please run away with me to hell.
-"Putting Holes in Happiness"
In 1996, Marilyn Manson released Antichrist Superstar (or Antichrist Svperstar, if you prefer) and sky-rocketed into the galvanizing and ambivalent aether of media attention: almost overnight he became a sensation, loved by the self-proclaimed disenfranchised and hated by almost every authority that ever felt moved to express outrage. In 1998, he released Mechanical Animals at the height of his popularity/infamy. Fans are split over which of the two albums are better. Both express deep disillusionment with traditional political and religious power structures and both embrace Nietzschian philosophy and morbid sexual ambivalence. It's hardly an understatement to say that Manson's credibility - and dare I say, relevance - rests solely on these two albums. Since then, nothing he has recorded has really been all that interesting. It has been mostly self-conscious, narcissistic, tired and drenched in excess. However, unlike Blake's proverb, this road of excess did not lead to the palace of wisdom.
With Eat Me, Drink Me, Marilyn Manson finally takes his first real steps in a new direction and while he's still the same androgynous, freakish self-proclaimed hierophant he has always been, he seems finally to be aware that he must re-define himself or fade away and be remembered as a past-century curio. With Ear Me, Drink Me he has stripped back some of the musical excess that plagues his last couple albums, aiming instead at a leaner rock/metal sound; the so-called goth style seems to have given way to a more later-Bowieesque sound, less like Ziggy Stardust, though, and more like Outside. This musical transformation is welcome, especially since The Golden Age of Grotesque, Manson's last album before this, felt so musically and creatively stunted, as if the band could not get past the departure of Twiggy Ramirez.
Thematically, Manson again follows his master David Bowie's steps, a la Diamond Dogs, and explores sexual ambivalence and dark seduction. Many of the songs, such as "If I was Your Vampire" or "Evidence" burn and curl in morbid and stained desire - their prurience and nihilism is almost unrestrained. At the same time, though, Manson seems to be aiming at a type of solace. In their own way, these are love songs - not of beauty and the beast but of the beast seducing beauty, subjugating and degrading her and, nevertheless, loving her. This is Milton's Satan as he would have been if he had actually had his way with Eve.
Manson has always surrounded himself with an almost messianic aura; even the title Eat Me, Drink Me has obvious Eucharistic overtones. However, unlike Nine Inch Nails' newest album Year Zero, which provided an Orwellian vision of the future and did so with great intensity and prophetic clarity, Eat Me, Drink Me, doesn't really seem to have a clear voice. Is Manson calling us to his dark vision of desire and seduction or warning us against it? It is unclear. It does seem, however, that Manson enjoys being in the dark corners of American culture and relishes dragging others into the dark to be alongside him. All too often Manson's dark corners are disconcertingly appealing, at least in a nihilistic, self-loathing kind of way. Like Spike once said to Buffy, "I may be dirt but you're the one that likes to roll around in it."
It remains to be seen whether or not Eat Me, Drink Me can bring Manson back from the brink of irrelevance. Stylistically, he seems to be maturing; thematically, he's playing it safe with his almost routine over-developed sense of nihilism and cynicism; culturally, he may be past his prime. Regardless, Eat Me, Drink Me should appear as a welcome return to form for those who may have lost faith in his ability to write compelling songs.