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Back Stories | My Album Reviews from Sept. 11, 1998

Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals, Hole's Celebrity Skin, R.L. Burnside's Come On In & more.

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Two decades ago, new albums from Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love and Hole, R.L. Burnside and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):

Marilyn Manson
Mechanical Animals
Call it The Return Of The Thin White Spook. After spending most of the decade trying to be Alice Cooper with his zombie-movie makeovers, shock-rock shtik and trailer-trash Satanism, demonoid phenomenon Marilyn Manson has exorcised his rock ’n’ roll devils and been born again … as David Bowie. Believe it or not, on Mechanical Animals, Manson has ditched doom and gloom for glam and glitz, abandoned his psycho-industrial thrash for ’70s space-rock and turfed his Antichrist Superstar persona for an androgynous, crimson-haired alien rock star alter-ego straight out of Ziggy Stardust. Actually, make that Ziggy Angeldust. The plot to this high-concept album, sez Marilyn, is something about Marilyn … sorry, Omega, being in love with a girl named Coma White, which actually turns out to be the drug he’s addicted to. Or something like that. Whatever. What Omega really serves as is a fairly obvious metaphor for Manson’s eternal alienation from humanity — aka the Mechanical Animals — as viewed through a pharmaceutical haze and set to a synthetic glam-rock hook. Remarkably, he still manages to make it sound fresh. Manson’s ’90s goth-metal and jaded ennui dovetail seamlessly with ’70s ersatz extravagance, yielding his most accessible, musical songs thus far — if you can call a ballad titled Fundamentally Loathsome accessible.

Hole
Celebrity Skin
It’s official — the Courtney Love celebrity makeover is complete. And judging by Celebrity Skin, her music has undergone a similar transformation, leaving behind the ragged glory of the band’s powerful earlier work for a slicker, commercial, controlled sound. The choppy riffs and lurching drums, the white-hot anger and black-humour lyrics, the razor-sharp hooks — they’ve been replaced by jangly pop, acoustic guitars, flowing vocals, sweet harmonies and full-blown studio production. Candy-coated Top 40 fare is the order of the day, from the awful catchy Awful to the Smashing Pumpkins-style orchestral ballad Northern Star (ironically, it’s not one of the five songs Billy Corgan co-wrote). And even when Courtney and co. do rock out, like on the gritty title track, the thumping Use Once And Destroy or the dark Kurt Cobain elegy Reasons To Be Beautiful, it’s with a mere shadow of the garage-band power they wielded in the days of Violet, Gutless and Teenage Whore.

R.L. Burnside
Come On In
For a 71-year-old bluesman from Mississippi, R.L. sure knows how to stay on the cutting edge. In 1996, he tore it up with blues-punk Jon Spencer; on this awesome disc, he chases the hoodoo down to the dance floor with Beck knob-twiddler Tom Rothrock. Taking up where Loser left off, Rothrock samples, loops, cuts and pastes Burnside’s raw juke-joint jive into mesmerizing, funky tracks that are primal yet contemporary at the same time. Kind of like ol’ R.L. hisself.

Agnostic Front
Something’s Gotta Give
After five years away, these New York hardcore legends have picked up their axes again — and picked up right where they left off. Still hoisting the punk flag of idealism, singer Roger Miret, guitarist Vinnie Stigma and co. rip through 15 new anthems, complete with whoa-ho gang choruses, hyper-polka drums and head-banging metal breaks. Sure, they play a little tighter and cleaner than they did in 1981, but the urgency, passion and power haven’t changed.