Review Summary: The sum of its parts, though the album may not be spectacular when broken down it is of substantial quality when viewed as a whole.
Marilyn Manson is something of an enigma. So much around him is based on image, controversy and his media persona. And perhaps this adds a certain feel to his music, but I feel the best way to listen to the mans albums are to forget who he is and just listen.
In the case of Holy Wood, this means you can appreciate a remarkable album. Consisting of 19 songs (though my copy has a terrible acoustic rendition of the Nobodies, avoid at all costs), its an epic effort all things considered. Another thing is that it really is an album rather than a collection of songs. The best way to listen to this is all the way through, and actually listen rather than have it on in the background. It is then that you can understand that this is based around an concept, a subverted vision of the 'glamorous' world of Holy Wood and the problems that arise from within it, be they the dissent of those who are nothing (the Nobodies) or criticism of what man has become (Cruci-fiction in Space)
This however is where the length of the album works against it. It is dificult to listen to 19 songs by one artist, even if the invention and variation are well above average. That this is so long means it is less likely to be heard as it should be, as one piece of work.
The music itself though, for the most part, is extremely good. The singles (The Fight Song's onslaught,The Nobodies scary dissent and Disposable Teens' menacing swing rythm) are easily accessible but remain intelligent music. The bookends (God eat God and Count to 6 and Die) are excellent, the latter especially providing a chilling finale to the proceedings with its empty gun shots. Furthermore, there are some absolutely brilliant songs on here which work within the album. Target Audience and Valentines Day in particular are impressive. Target Audience contains some of the only really genuine sounding emotion from a Manson song I can think of, whislt Valentines Day's shimmering guitar sound gives the song an outstandingly menaing and ethereal to a song which conjures up a dark world.
Not all the songs are up to a very high standard though. This may be inevitable in a 19 track abum, but it begs the question why Cruci-fiction in Space and the Fall of Adam in particular are kept. Despite some interesting lyrical ideas, the songs are boring and pointless, lacking in the inspiration of some those surrounding them.
As I said, the lyrics are the strongest parts of these failures, and fortunately the lyrical standard is high throughout. Despite a couple of just plain bizarre proclamations (if Jack was a baptist, we'd drink wine from his head,) The general messages are excellent. The Fight Song could well be one of th rants spouted by Tyler Durden in Fight Club, whilst Coma Black perfectly conveys the despondancy and anger at living in this world but not really living (this was never my world, you chased the angel away, I killed myself to make everybody pay.)
One of Mansons biggest assets is that he can write the songs to support the lyrics. Though he maintains instrumental parts without much variation, he is constantly adding to the overall sound by including discordant accompaniement (see President Dead and Valentines Day,) as well as using an array of inhuman sounds to create his world. The riffs are simple, but then they are really only a tool, used to create an overall product rather than relying on themselves.
This however means that the musicians are pretty wasted, especially John 5 who we now know is capable of shredding with the best of them. Though his playing i immaculate through the album, and his little touches make the riffs that little bit more intersting (bending the last chord of the riff in the Fight Song adding a wry sarcastic feel), it is a pity that such a talent was not used to his full extent.
That said, despite neglecting his band Manson himself puts in a stellar performance. Though he might not be the best singer in the world, he is an instantly recognizable and quite versatile vocalist. His voice is perfectly suited to the soundscapes created, be it the brutal Burning Flag or the bitter sweet Coma Black. He also creates a great overall sound, allowing all the instruments to fill the speakers.
All in all, Holy Wood is a package. Not a huge amount within the album stands out on its own, except perhaps the lyrics, but it is all good enough that when it comes together the overall product is one of excellent quality. A few needless songs aside an a wasted opportunity to use a stellar guitarist aside, this is an excelent album from a man who is, when it comes down to it, a highly skilled writer of conceptual music.