K! scribe Mischa Pearlman unpacks two decades of personal connections to Marilyn Manson's artistic breakthrough, on the anniversary of its release…
The first time I heard Mechanical Animals, I was at my friend James’ house. His parents were away and were drunk on beer and sherry, raided from his folks’ liquor cabinet. I was already a passive Marilyn Manson fan, thanks mainly to the cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and was morbidly intrigued by Antichrist Superstar, if not wholly convinced by it. Unlike James, who loved it so much that he’d bought Mechanical Animals the day it was released and he kept raving about.
And so it wasn’t long after that we were drinking to get drunk – as you do at 17 – and listening to this new Marilyn Manson album. I remember so vividly the moment the first notes of Great Big White World came through the speakers and my mind just being absolutely blown. It wasn’t what I expected in the slightest. Sure, it sounded like Marilyn Manson – mainly because of his voice – but at the same time it sounded nothing like him. This was a song from another planet, music that truly sounded otherworldly, as opposed to something made by a rock band full of humans.
Even the few harder, faster songs which had remnants of the industrial metal of Antichrist Superstar - Rock Is Dead (which could easily be off Antichrist Superstar), I Want To Disappear, New Model No. 15 – are encased in this glossy, space-age sheen, something which marks them out as part of this specific Marilyn Manson album, rather than just being Marilyn Manson songs.
Some of that is inextricably linked to the concept of the record. A David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust-esque exploration of characters, there’s an “alien messiah” called Omēga – who fell to Earth and was captured and forced into becoming a rockstar product with a band called The Mechanical Animals – and another character called Alpha that, by all accounts, is based on Manson himself at the end of the Antichrist Superstar era.
Not that you need to know any of that to appreciate these songs or understand the themes that course through the album – neither James or I were aware of any concept at the time, nor any reason for the shift in musical direction except for the fact that’s what bands do sometimes.