Welcome to Their Nightmare

"I'm very much opposed to Christian fascism and people listening to everything Christianity has to say," expounds vocalist, lyricist, and bandleader Marilyn Manson. "But what if everybody listened to everything I have to say? On a couple of different levels, I think it obviously would be better, but at the same time, what I tell people is to be yourself and not be me."
Such is the burden of a would-be rock-and-roll icon.
The music of onetime Fort Lauderdale resident Marilyn Manson and his band of the same name is a potent and transgressive cocktail full of childhood nightmares, rock-and-roll idolatry, TV talk-show trash, and circuslike atmospherics that aims to shoot down conventions by eliciting scary feelings and shocking thoughts. Their songs, first showcased nationally on 1994's Portrait of an American Family (released on Nothing, the label run by nine inch nails guru Trent Reznor), are built on a musical platform of catchy hard-rock hooks, heavy-metal guitar churn, spooky synth lines, and magnetic rhythms interwoven with sound effects and samples. The band's image is an amalgam of everything considered vile and wicked by America's Christian right: from the bandmembers' monikers, which combine famous-femme first names with the surnames of noted serial killers, to their increasingly complex forays into androgyny and Manson's association with the Church of Satan.

Now, almost two years after the release of Portrait, comes Smells Like Children, a fifteen-track collection that contains some well-chosen cover versions of others' songs, plus new renditions of songs from Portrait, all of it held together by a soundscape of surrealistic snippets. Smells Like Children should serve to further the band's notorious reputation, with its themes of fantasy and reality and the use and abuse of drugs, people, food, the media, and just about everything else. While Manson and his band may strike some as a sick joke, they remain a musical force to be reckoned with A a force that goes beyond the group's penchant for toting kitschy Seventies lunch boxes and wearing smeared lipstick. The group's music would appear to lend voice to a legion of disenfranchised youth, providing an outlet for their alienation and anger.

And this disturbs a lot of people, particularly parents, church leaders, and concert promoters who have heard about the band's outrageous A in some cases illegal A stage antics. (In the past, Manson has spit on security guards in New Jersey; ripped up a Mormon bible during a show in Salt Lake City; and, at a November 1994 concert at the Miami Arena with nine inch nails, simulated fellatio with a male sex slave.) On-stage the reed-thin, ghostly pale Manson writhes and contorts like a gothic Pinocchio, with a satanic force pulling the strings. But Manson is in control, and he understands -- perhaps even welcomes with open, tattooed arms -- the controversy generated by his band. Not only does it advance their career and earn them notoriety, but it also makes them feel that their message is getting across.

"Censorship is absolutely necessary," Manson states during a recent telephone interview from Fayetteville, North Carolina, a stop on the band's current tour. "I don't necessarily agree with it, but you can't have [controversy] without [censorship]. I think people like me wouldn't be as extreme as they are if there weren't things trying to hold them back. I don't expect everyone to understand what I have to say -- I'm saying things because I have to say them -- and there is no universal truth or universal message I can give to everybody. I just hope people can get out of it whatever they can get and go as deep as they want. I like to show people their fears and hope they understand them, because I like understanding my fears."

Creating a soundtrack that brings those fears to the surface is the band's objective on Children. The opening cut, "Hands of Small Children," sounds as if it has been lifted from a horror movie, with the distorted cries of babies melting into the bass line of the following track, "Diary of a Dope Fiend," one of two reworkings of the hard-rocking and primal "Dope Hat" from Portrait included here. Even more anguished and over-the-top than the original, "Diary of a Dope Fiend" sets the tone for the disc and finds Manson playing the role of a macabre Willy Wonka, leading listeners through his factory of malevolent creations. Other reinterpreted tracks include "Kiddie Grinder," an industrial remix of Portrait's "Organ Grinder," and "Everlasting Cocksucker," an atmospheric remake of the first album's "Cake and Sodomy."

Even better are three cover tunes: a sexually charged remake of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put a Spell on You" that is even more harrowing than Diamanda Galas's version from a few years back; an appropriately gutsy rendition of Patti Smith's "Rock and Roll Nigger"; and a creepy, grinding remake of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." MM's take on the latter song replaces the original's delicate synth melody with foreboding bass lines and chugging power riffs; Manson's throaty vocals bring new resonance to the lyrics. "The idea to record the three covers started with 'Sweet Dreams,'" Manson explains. "I thought that song and 'Dope Hat' both touched on the idea of use and abuse, and we started to develop a bit of a theme. And with the remix of 'Organ Grinder,' which also deals with childhood and abuse, things started to tie together with that theme running through it."

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