Preview: Marilyn Manson, Japan, 2001

Marilyn Manson has made a career out of waving a red rag at the bull of Middle America's tender sensibilities. His shock rock thrives on attacking God, guns, and government, and exposing the hypocrisy inevitable in any relatively advanced society. The controversial victory of George W. Bush in the recent presidential election (or Supreme Court selection) seems guaranteed to underline his important role as a literate and incisive critic of American society.

Quite what his relevance is in Japan, however, remains an open question. But the six dates Manson and his eponymous band are lined up to play across Japan next month attest to a growing popularity over here.

Founded in 1989 in Florida, the band has gone through several line-up changes with Manson himself and keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy the only permanent fixtures. Manson got his unusual name by coupling the forename of a female icon with the surname of a notorious murderer, changing the bland Brian Warner to a name so effective at conjuring up the contradictions of America's media circus that it became the band's name as well.

Marilyn Manson's wild visuals – including such crowd pleasers as women in cages and skinned goat heads – built up a dedicated fan base in Florida that served as a launch-pad for their national breakthrough in 1994, when Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor took them under his dark wing, signing them to his record label and producing their early albums.

The vital ingredient in appealing to America's disaffected youth, however, was the authenticity of the band's dark pantomime. With a musical style heavy and intense, but not particularly innovative, and strong gothicky visuals that veered dangerously close to self parody, the band managed to keep their edge by going out of their way to shock.

In 1999 they got a little help from the media when two high school students massacred 15 people at Columbine High School. After it was discovered that the killers were Manson fans, the conservative media were quick to blame Manson's doom-laden lyrics. The band denied any responsibility, but the association greatly enhanced their image as agents provocateurs of American youth while at the same time adding to their own sense of injustice and outrage.

Last here in August 1999 as part of the Beautiful Monsters tour, coming to Japan must seem like a holiday for the group. At that time they were touring the Mechanical Animals album, the cover of which presented the defining image of Manson as an eerie-looking hermaphrodite. It is this ambiguous quality of the frontman that allows Manson to be all things to all fans and initiates a particularly strong form of identification.

Mechanical Animals disappointed some hard core fans with its slightly lighter, more glam-flavoured rock. The new album Holy Wood is therefore seen as an attempt to reconcile differences between older and newer fans. Haunting, echoey tracks, like opener Godeatgod, jostle for space with the pummeling industrial rock of tracks like The Fight Song.

All the lyrics are by Manson, but everyone has a hand in the music, with relative newcomer, bassist Twiggy Ramirez, contributing the lion's share. The standout track, however, is The Nobodies, a beautiful, snarling melody, written by current guitarist John 5, fitted to a sneering, ironic, black-tinged lyric by Manson.

These songs added to such established classics as The Dope Show and The Beautiful People will make for compelling shows in a country with its own complex love/hate relationship with America.

Colin Liddell
23rd February, 2001
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun

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