By Brandon Judeh (Music Editor)
During the summer of 1994, music was in a curious place.
Grunge was on life support, Hip-Hop and R&B were starting to take over the radio waves and Industrial music was just beginning to take the world by storm.
While Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were leading the way, unbeknownst to most, there was a little known band from Florida well on their way to turning the world upside down.
Ironically it was Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor who would turn this musician loose on the unsuspecting public.
The band, Marilyn Manson, the album: Portrait of an American Family.
Twenty years ago this month (July 19) the album hit store shelves all while the band was opening for NIN, Hole and the Jim Rose Circus.
Manson and his band of freaks, Daisy Berkowitz (Guitar), Madonna Wayne “Pogo” Gacy (Keyboards), Twiggy Ramirez (bass) and Sara Lee Lucas (drums), soon became notorious for their live act full of violence and unpredictability.
Whether it was Mr. Manson cutting himself on stage or Pogo’s odd stage behavior the band was considered controversial right out of the gate, as was their names (First name, after an iconic female sex symbol and last name after an iconic serial killer) and first album.
Portrait of an American Family, produced by Trent Reznor at various locations including the infamous Tate house in California, kicked off with a twisted rendition of a classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory line.
“Prelude (The Family Trip)” features Manson rambling the famous boat ride lines from Willy Wonka overtop of samples and distortion, but it was the next song that truly introduced us to Marilyn Manson.
The opening lines to “Cake and Sodomy,” much like the rest of the song, were a big fuck you to pretty much everything.
“I am the God of fuck,” Manson, calmly proclaims.
The chorus, “White trash get down on your knees, time for cake and sodomy” though catchy, was an obvious stab at redneck America. Specifically those in the Midwest that Mr. Manson grew up around in Canton, Ohio.
“Lunchbox” was next up, a tale about a child being bullied, then the child turning to violence as a weapon of retaliation.
It was also an acknowledgment to all of the Manson fans, A.K.A. the “Spooky Kids” who would carry lunchboxes to his shows when the band was relatively unknown and still playing in Florida.
The next two tracks, “Organ Grinder” and “Cyclops” are gritty, hard hitting and disturbing.
Upon first listen, “Organ Grinder” is shocking with its lyrical content, dealing with everything from penis envy to self-loathing.
“Cyclops” is a straightforward rocker that is the perfect prelude to perhaps the albums catchiest song, “Dope Hat.”
The songs guitar riff, bass line and drums, along with Manson’s hypnotic vocals, are enough to send you into a trance, as the beat is sure to be stuck in your head for hours.
The music video, the third single off of the album, fits the song perfectly as you follow Manson and his band mates through a twisted, perverted boat ride straight out of Willy Wonka.
Track number seven is a brutal number that features a surreal/nightmarish video.
“Get Your Gunn,” which was the albums first single, takes a stab at pro-lifers and right-wing religious fanatics alike.
Ironic lyrics such as, “The housewife I will beat/the pro-life I will kill, what you won’t do I will” help spearhead Manson’s message of hypocritical, white trash American’s.
During the breakdown of the song, voices are heard in the background and a gunshot is fired, adding more to the shock value is the fact it was real, as it was an excerpt from Budd Dwyer’s ill-fated press conference in 1987. (Don’t know who Budd Dwyer is? Google the video.)
The song “Wrapped in Plastic” (a personal favorite) followed. Manson got the name of the song from the popular TV series “Twin Peaks.”
One of the first scenes from the pilot episode shows a character that finds the shows (dead) star, to which he proclaims, “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic.”
The series was a personal favorite of Manson’s and he uses several samples from the show in this song about how, from the outside, many family’s appear to have the All-American, white picket fence lifestyle, but it’s what happens inside of the home that tells the real story.
“Dogma” and “Sweet Tooth” follow before the three-headed monster of “Snake Eyes and Sissies”, “My Monkey” and “Misery Machine” hits.
“Snake Eyes and Sissies” was originally intended to be the first single, but it was never released.
One can see why it was a strong contender with its undeniably catchy bass line and Berkowitz grungy guitar riff.
One of the oddest tracks is “My Monkey” but it surprisingly works well.
The verse features Manson’s voice being transformed into a child like enigma, before blasting off into his gritty, sarcastic vocals during the chorus.
Lastly the masterpiece ends with “Misery Machine” a song the band regularly closed with during concerts.
The track is pure mayhem as every instrument seems to be in overdrive and ready to explode at any given moment until the song suddenly slows down into a slow, heavy groove toward the end.
That’s when Manson’s voice joins the instruments in becoming slow, but heavy at the same time, before blasting through the intense ending that eventually leads into a sample of a phone call received from an angry parent of a Manson fan.
Though this album was only a prelude to the controversy that was to come with subsequent albums, this may be Mr. Manson’s finest effort, especially lyrically.
Many of the albums references are still relevant today as we live in a world full of hypocrites and self-righteous people.
Little did the world know, in 1994, that this was just the start and that two years later Marilyn Manson would become the most hated person and band in the entire world…