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Marilyn Manson
Brixton Academy, London

Yahoo Music (June 2003)

The cabaret is excellent, of course. You come expecting a hilariously over the top gothic freakshow, choreographed by the ghost of Cecil B DeMille and brought to life by off duty doorstaff from the London Dungeon, and still you're reduced to dumbstruck bemusement on several occasions.

Look, there's Marilyn the 30ft Queenie, hoisted up in the air by invisible strings, wearing a flowing widow's ballgown. At first glimpse you think he's on stilts, teetering on the edge of collapse, the ultimate circus oddball (roll up, roll up, for the very tall singing mutant lady, cataract of eye and caked in white foundation, here to delight, astound and mystify). And even when you spot how the trick's done, it doesn't destroy the illusion one bit.

My God, there's Marilyn the human fly, intoning the 'Dope Show' while sporting ridiculously long prosthetic arms, a grotesque stuck in a human world. He wields his superlimbs like antennae, clawing the air in defiance, cursing Jeff Goldblum with every step, but after a while you can't help think of Kenny Everett and his big-palmed preacher man. "Bomb The Russians!" he might as well be screaming, the Tory conference in his sights. It's outrageous, unbelievable, ludicrous - but all done in the best pahhssible taste.

And that top hat! Oh. If you saw ManMoz on 'Jonathan Ross' you'll know it well, half leaning tower of Pisa, half melted 'Close Encounters' mountain, Dali via Jean Paul Gautier. Darlings, it's magnificent. The bowler hat, too. Tres 'Clockwork Orange', no? Headwear is the new rock criticism. But most astonishing is the moment he picks up a saxophone. The Urban Mythsters got it wrong. Young Brian didn't star in 'The Wonder Years' - what a laughable notion! He was really the lungpower behind 'Baker Street'. Bob Hollness, be damned.

There is music too, of course. Curses. This is where it all falls apart. Or at least starts to rip at the seams. For all of his theatrical bravery, when it comes to a decent tune and a chorus worth wasting breath on, the 'Dark Lord' is surprisingly conservative. The metal isn't metal enough (think the 'Buffy' theme tune, the incidental music from 'The Lost Boys', Hollywood does metal that won't scare the sponsors). The pop isn't pop enough (there's a bit in 'This Is The New Shit' when you realise the busy drumbeat is the same as 'Sound Of The Underground' by Girls Aloud and from then on you're disappointed with every second he doesn't lurch into their chorus). It's too goth, too muddy, too bland.

Best example is 'Tainted Love'. A genius song, covered by many, destroyed only by one: Marilyn Manson. He takes its irresistible soul and tramples all over it, stomping out any finesse or sparkle. His own 'Great Big White World' too (which comes not long after he's dubiously declared the night to be "a Caucasian occasion", although the context and probable irony is unclear) is terribly hollow. He's trying for empathy, weeping "we used to love ourselves/we used to love one another", but how can you feel for something that's 90 per cent papier mache? How can you care for a Guy Fawkes dummy?

You feel let down by Marilyn Manson not because of what he delivers but what he could be but isn't. Were he to collaborate with The Neptures or Dre or even bloody Cathy Dennis and produce a real anthem for the disposable teens, he could infect the mainstream forever. Right now, he's too easy to dismiss, not enough of a threat. He's Warhol without Marilyn, Warhol with only photos of car crashes and home videos of sleeping lovers to offer the world. The day he comes up with a song that's half as startling as his fantastic stage show is the day Marilyn Manson really becomes a star.

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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