They say hell’s not hot, but it can’t be much colder than the Pro-Tooled purgatory encapsulated within Marilyn Manson’s Eat Me, Drink Me. Eleven tracks of what Manson has repeatedly claimed to be his “most personal work,” the album is a stunningly lackluster, impersonal anti-work, even more so than the Weimar-inspired sex and art anthems that metastasized to form the malignant The Golden Age of the Grotesque (2003). To carry that awkward metaphor one step further, Eat Me, Drink Me could be the most benign music recorded since the Carpenters released a Christmas album in ’78.
The problem is one of authenticity. Throughout his career, Manson has been appropriating the work and sounds of others, reconfiguring them through his glam-choked goth filter of taboo-baiting and self-mythification: Alice Cooper served as the stencil for the early albums, Broken-era Trent Reznor for the Antichrist Superstar breakthrough, and, most important, David Bowie cast the shadow for the Mechanical Animals coke-cold masterwork, with a bit of John Lennon and Prince peppered throughout Holywood and The Golden Age, respectively. Always a more captivating interviewee and sound-bite generator than a musician, Manson’s never developed a bedrock for his own noise, focusing more on the Cliff’s Notes Artaud ‘n’ roll that used to scare your mom rather than developing his own musical foundations. This posed quite the problem, then, when Manson decided to use “Marilyn Manson” as the template for Eat Me, Drink Me, both sonically and thematically — forcing Manson to spend the album Dahmering the turgid, photocopied music of his own earlier discs off of the bone, with his warbly, nasal moan meandering through the maelsturm and drangs that haunt the disc, like the tepid “Tourniquet” rewrite “They Said That Hell’s Not Hot,” or the pre-chewed ghost of Holywood‘s slickly industrial second half that stains nearly everything else.
At first, one might even take this as an arch, Warholian parody — Manson is, after all, an artiste — but even as parody, the songs fall flat. Beneath the plodding, slur-drunk grind of the music are lyrics like, “If I was your vampire/ Certain as the moon/ We’ll have each other/ Until the sun,” or, even better, this snippet from the Manson-rocker-by-numbers “Putting Holes in Happiness”: “Blow out the candles/ On all my Frankensteins/ At least my death wish will come true.” Perfect as those lyrics may be for the back of a Hot Topic T-shirt, paint the portrait of a man lost in his own plastic, inconsequential wilderness. Unlike Bowie, Manson is either unable or unwilling to destroy his fallen-alien persona — had this album been performed by Brian Warner instead of “Marilyn Manson,” he might have created something half as important as his own self image. Instead, Eat Me, Drink Me is a desperately cynical (or maybe Manson really is having a laugh and it’s the other way around, but I doubt it) stumble toward meaning by a performer who has always defined his silhouette by the music and society that was outside of it. And now that the music’s over and the crowd has dispersed, it’s easy to see that there is simply nothing there.