The sad clown of heavy metal, Marilyn Manson, has put out another album and, realizing he has reached critical mass with his shock tactics and alien space-drag shtick, has chosen an entirely new persona. He wants to be known as an artist, a painter and renaissance man, not just some musician or Alice Cooper leftover. The resulting product, The Golden Age of Grotesque, supposedly drawing inspiration from the Weimar Republic, Dadaism and burlesque, reaches farther than it can grasp.
Manson has always been a study in contradictions. He designed his name to be a combination of pop star and serial killer. His personality in print and interview is erudite and funny, yet his music alternates between dumb fun and just plain dumb. He claims not to be interested in shocking people, yet he routinely performs in Nazi-inspired regalia or sadomasochistic paraphernalia. Golden Age is rife with these same contradictions. From the opening track, "This Is the New Shit," the band makes it clear that this is the same shit we've heard before. Grinding metal guitars dance coolly with drum machines through lead single "mOBSCENE" until "Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety Zap" presents the first real innovation, a metal song with a swing beat. 'Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth' sounds like the perfect theme song for the next WWE pay-per-view, but it's not until 'Para-noir' that the album sounds truly inspired in its weirdness, as women (supposedly hookers) list reasons for defiling Manson over a droning beat and a detuned guitar. The closing song 'Vodevil' (think "vaudeville," but eee-vil) presents Manson's manifesto in the most heavy-handed way possible.
So how does the sad clown reconcile all his contradictions? He doesn't have to, because the truth of the matter is that it's all for entertainment. He may wish it meant more, but as one of the few musicians who truly play up the entertainment factor, Manson is a Christina Aguilera for the Hot Topic-and-black-lipstick set. Taken as pure show, Golden Age is the most fun and exciting album he's made in a quite a while, and the lite-metal riffs and posing present an enjoyable package for those so inclined. Unfortunately for the heavy-metal Paganucci's high-minded ambition, though, it shows potential, but it's not yet art.