Unfortunately, Manson wasn't really ready to leave rock 'n' roll behind. Instead, he emerged this past June with Eat Me, Drink Me, an abysmally timid, misguided, and utterly glossy collection of lightweight pop-metal. In fact, it's such a disappointing effort that it makes one forget that Manson was once an aggressively intelligent and talented artist.
Accompanied solely by guitarist, engineer, and spooky sound effect generator Tim Skold, Manson sounds downright confused. They stick to a course of simplistic, sporadically catchy pop and lonesome power balladry, which gets muddy when Manson strays toward reggae (on "The Red Carpet Grave") and full-tilt '80s cheese (evident throughout, due in large part to Skold's hammy, meandering guitar solos). Instead of aiming for new subject matter to vivisect, Manson descends into a fatal combination of myopic melodrama and hackneyed sentimentality, singing lines like "You taste like Valentine's and we cry/ You're like a birthday/ I should have picked the photograph/ It lasted longer than you" on "Putting Holes in Happiness."
The God of Fuck owes his audience an explanation of how he hit this plateau, but it sounds like his creative compass is so warped either by a broken heart, the degenerative effects of long-term drug use, or both that he is truly lost.
This was decidedly not the case when Manson started out. Antichrist Superstar was a brash mission statement in 1996, brimming with indictments of beautiful people, declarations of unrepentant depravity, and a lucid cycle-of-life narrative that hinted at aspirations to a Bowie-like self-made mythology. Two years later, 1998's Mechanical Animals was a futuristic glamfest that fine-tuned the musicianship bolstering Manson's confessionals about drug use, the cult of celebrity, and spiritual reinvention.
As the millennium arrived, Manson continued to be an articulate artist. He offered compassionate reflections about the Columbine shooters in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. His last new offering before declarations of retirement began flying, 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque, wasn't groundbreaking, but it was a stylish effort that explored Manson's fascination with Berlin's vaudeville scene in the 1930s. If he had to pick a note to go out on, this was a shrewd one a lusty, loud, and lavish swan song that set the stage for a second act as a filmmaker or painter.
What compelled Manson to return to the recording studio isn't entirely clear, but there's no denying that the need for therapy after his divorce from burlesque diva Dita Von Teese was a factor, as was his rebound with 19-year-old actress Evan Rachel Wood. Identified by Manson as his new, Lolita-esque muse, Wood is purportedly the inspiration behind "Heart-Shaped Glasses," Eat Me, Drink Me's first single, and sadly, a complete distillation of what makes the album ring so hollow. The song contains an anemic keyboard line and a lover's lament that reads like high-school poetry penned by one of his own naive fans. While good breakup records are marked by naked self-analysis, brutal life lessons learned, or vitriolic revenge fantasies, the bad ones are mired in self-pity or are clichéd tales of woe. Song titles like "You and Me and the Devil Make Three" and "If I Was Your Vampire" put this record squarely in the latter category. More specifically, lyrics like "The legends get older/ But I stay the same/ As long as you have less to say" illuminate exactly why this previously provocative performance artist is now officially past his prime.