Say what you will about America’s favorite Satanist, but it can’t be denied that Marilyn Manson will always be an important thread in America's rock and roll fabric. So, in celebration of the shock-rocker/boundary-pushing gender-bender's arrival at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion this evening with co-headliner Slipknot, we offer this ranking of the goth lord’s musical repertoire. Whether you’re a fan or not — Manson is a divider, people either love or hate him — his cultural impact and musical history is fascinating. To follow his story is to follow the evolution of American popular culture and our reaction to one of its most extreme voices.
Retrospectively, his antics of yesteryear appear tame when compared to today’s standards, and for that, you can thank him and his band. Art, without pushing its boundaries, remains stagnant. If ever there was a performer who capsized the proverbial boat in the stagnant waters of modern rock, it's Manson.
9. EAT ME, DRINK ME (2007)
A sequel to the 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque (see below) four years earlier, Manson and KMFDM's Tim Skold wrote another interesting album, but one that lacks anything original or new and just feels like a facsimile of its predecessor. Yet it still had some interesting arrangements, including the noteworthy “Mutilation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery” and “You, Me and the Devil Makes 3.”
8. THE GOLDEN AGE OF GROTESQUE (2003)
By 2003, Manson was a veteran in exposing the hypocritical nature of our culture and a soothsayer for America's obsession with religion. The exit of bassist/principal songwriter Twiggy Ramirez and the addition of Skold began an obvious shift in musical direction, a time that also seemed to mark the beginning of the end of the relationship with keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy. But as the core members seemed to unravel, Manson kept it bound together. The track “mOBSCENE” met with a Grammy nomination, but lost out to Metallica’s “St. Anger.” And, let’s be realistic, anything that loses to St. Anger can’t be all that good, now can it?
7. BORN VILLIAN (2012)
With the departure of drummer Ginger Fish and severing ties with Interscope Records, fans who followed Manson knew things were either about to get really awful or really great. Thankfully, they weren’t really the former. More songs written by Twiggy and the drum work of Nine Inch Nails’ Chris Vrenna (who also co-wrote most of the songs) made for a sonically interesting album. Yet nothing on Born Villain comes close to haunting the subconscious like Manson covering Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” Whether an attempt at another disturbing cover or a playful nod to his own personality, Manson was still delivering dark themes and flith like few others ever dared.
6. THE HIGH END OF LOW (2009)
Finally, with the return of Twiggy (who had been sidelined with noteworthy projects like A Perfect Circle and Josh Homme's Desert Sessions; plus Goon Moon, his project with producer Chris Goss), Manson came full circle post-divorce to prove that he still had musical cred. Not that proving anything was necessary, but the followup world tour with Twiggy on board was enough to reactivate the fan base that had followed them for so long.
5. HOLY WOOD (IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY OF DEATH) (2000)
Written in response to the overwhelming accusatory criticism Manson received after the Columbine massacre, Holy Wood continued to explore the themes of religion, media and celebrity — all as if he wasn’t deeply influencing all three of these topics simultaneously himself. Yet as per usual, Manson had a way of looking at culture through a different, albeit objective and critical, lens. This is the album that really cemented the band as more than just shock-rockers, but true musical mavericks with an intelligent perspective on social issues. While some saw self-aggrandizement in the cover art (which depicts Manson crucified on a cross) it really is a statement on celebrity. If you hadn’t expected him to portray himself as a Christ-like celebrity, you weren’t really paying attention.
4. THE PALE EMPEROR (2015)
Like a surprise left hook out of the shadows, Manson’s most recent release is a stunner after a decade of releases that struggled to reach above average. Here, he takes on new territory and again proves fearless when it comes to collaborations. The culminating tour with Smashing Pumpkins confirmed (again) the band's worthiness as a headliner, with live shows that were superior entertainment packages. Pale Emperor's best tracks include “Deep Six” and “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles.”
3. MECHANICAL ANIMALS (1998)
By the late '90s, Manson and other industrial acts represented an alternative (pun unintentional) to grunge. And while grunge was certainly important, outside of goth there wasn’t much to raise the spirits of rock fans looking for something besides pop-punk and a bumper crop of one-hit wonders. The music industry sought to bleed every band of its talent, focus and money in one song, making Mechanical Animals a brave and significant concept album that contains some of Manson's greatest hits: “Rock is Dead,” “The Dope Show,” and “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me).”
2. ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR (1996)
The title of this album really says it all. Manson and his influence had taken over the musical world. Every corner of the Earth seemed to either embrace the band or become vehemently opposed to them — even leading Utah and South Carolina to band the group from playing on state property. Eventually, the ACLU took up the fight against the tide of pitchforked do-gooders who couldn’t handle artists who might express ideas that didn’t promote traditional family values, and Manson prevailed in the name of free speech.
1. PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY (1994)
This album's impact on music at the time of release cannot really be underestimated, nor can it be accurately described in a short blurb. Like it or not, Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids gave rock the dark shot in the arm that was needed at the time when music had given itself completely over to the bland and self-indulgent emotional ballads of alt-rock kings like Pearl Jam. Music needed a balance of dark and light and Manson brought the darkness like few were doing at the time when suddenly metal was barely breathing. Songs like “Lunchbox” and “Cake and Sodomy” brought a fresh level of cultural examination to rock and roll that had been missing under the heteronormative machismo metal days of the '80s. Manson’s level of shock and interrogation of acceptable performance hadn’t been seen since the glam/punk heyday of '70s-era Iggy Pop and David Bowie.