Review Summary: How did Manson fair very early in his career?5 of 5 thought this review was well written
Marilyn Manson has certainly made a name for himself. Whether you love him, hate him or don't know much about him, you've heard his name somewhere. His debut LP "Portrait of an American Family" kinda sits in the background to his other more popular releases. Very few of these songs get much recognition by the band anymore, but just because it has pretty much been left on the side of the road, does that really make it an inferior album?
It opens with Marilyn reciting the poem from the infamous tunnel boat ride scene from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." It starts as an eerie murmur, but eventually turns to insane screaming and yelling and turns to a theme of abolute insanity. It's interesting to say the least. There's somewhat of an aura of cheesy, and somewhat disturbing insanity with this whole album and that's one of my favorite parts about this; the insanity of it is so trippy and cliche that it turns out to be pretty entertaining and creative.
"Cake and Sodomy" gives the album a proper introduction, a filthy, disgusting, and wretched alternative metal song that really shows that Manson was trying to piss off parents and attract rebellious teenagers. This is the parents' bane in the 90's. The themes include sex, pornography, incest, fecal matter, and rape. I'm mixed on this. The shocking themes certainly have a "you're trying too hard" attitude to it, but clearly it worked or else Manson wouldn't have the name he's created for himself. The guitar work is somewhat unorganized and klanky, but it's not too unpleasant. It's certainly worth listening to regardless.
"Lunchbox" was one of the last surviving songs of the "Portrait" era, and it's damn good. It's a schoolyard anthem dealing with the banning of metal lunchboxes (since they were used as weapons quite often back in the day) and fighting back against bullies. It's a good, super fun song that absolutely REEKS with the glorious stank of the nineties.
If you've heard any of Marilyn Manson's later songs, you can certainly hear at this point he was still trying to develop a voice. He sounds young and kinda generic in this song with yelling that you can hear in a lot music from this era. Basically, he didn't quite have it yet, but that's really not a big issue. Plenty of vocalists go through this and he doesn't really sound bad at all. You can just tell he was still practicing.
I never listened to "Organ Grinder" much. It's kind of boring actually. Every couple of lines follow a rather predictable pattern and the guitar work just feels like it's just there. It doesn't stand out at all and is painfully boring. The lyrics are interesting though and Manson sings them well.
"Cyclops" is shorter and really heavy with very thick riffs and very loud screaming throughout. It has a very grungy nineties sound about it and it kinda reminds me of Alice in Chains in a straight jacket. The guitar is still kinda bland and doesn't do anything fancy, but everything else about the sound makes up for it.
"Dope Hat" is one of my all time favorite Marilyn Manson songs. The guitar and drums are bouncy and catchy, the lyrics are dark and also very catchy, and it has a classic, creepy atmosphere going on with the "ooweeoo" sounding keyboard. The music video is also genius, again referencing "Willy Wonka" but it's more like willy Wonka on several different kinds of illegal narcotics. It's certainly the most fun I've had with a Manson song and is a must listen for any fan, or anyone who's starting to get into his music.
"Get Your Gunn" is another case of "trying to hard" and succeeding. This was a rather popular single, so it was probably more effective than "Cake and Sodomy" was. The phrase "God Damn your righteous hand" is repeated over and over and the lyrics contain references to murder, domestic abuse, and self harm. If "Lunchbox" is a schoolyard anthem, them "Get Your Gunn" is the angsty teenage version. It seems like a theme song for troubled teens and on top of that, it's a pretty great song too.
"Wrapped in Plastic" starts with a slow bass riff accompanied with unsettling, and somewhat annoying, blood curdling screams and random, intelligible speaking in the background. Probably the most disturbing intro yet, but after that, this song isn't much special. Like "Organ Grinder", I never went back to this one much. The song feels a bit empty to me. Though it's not bad, it's still one of the weaker of the album.
I really like "Dogma". It's a fast paced heavy metal tune that has straightforward, anti-religious lyrics. I love the straightforward lyrics because it's something that anyone can understand what he's trying to say. Example: "I don't need your hate; I decide my fate." I specifically like that because it's basically my views on the subject too, but I digress. This is a very fun and pretty heavy tune.
"Sweet Tooth" is another slow and ominous tune, but it's not quite as boring as the other ones that I've noted on. Still nothing very special and there are certainly better tracks to listen to here, but it's entertaining. The skipping effect on the vocals is kinda cool and the simple bass is pretty nice too.
I love "Snake Eyes and Sissies" despite it's amusing title. It's a somewhat groovy, extremely industrial song track with lyrics that were stuck in my head for weeks. I seem to have been using the term "fun" quite a bit in this review, which is odd because when people think of Marilyn Manson, fun isn't exactly the first thing to pop up. This goes to show how much of a black sheep this album is.
"My Monkey" can go one of two ways with you. It can either be a fun, silly, creative tune, or you can think it's ear-bleedingly annoying. I'm leaning more towards the former. Manson's vocals are pitch shifted up for a chipmunkish effect and that's really the deal breaker. I can listen to it, but many people may not be able to handle it without wanting to tear their hair out. I personally think that the instrumental work stands out most. It's diverse and really stands out on this album. I really enjoy this song.
"Misery Machine" starts off more nu sounding than the rest of the album. About 2:30 in, it slows down significantly and starts to remind me more of his later releases, which makes this song appropriate for being a closer. It's like a window for what is to come. After that there's about 2 more minutes of instrumentals and limited vocals, and then it cuts to a screaming woman, 6 minutes of a ringing telephone, and then some mother picking the phone up saying not to call anymore. It's certainly not something I listen to a lot to say the least, considering most of the song doesn't contain much song, but the bit that does contain material is pretty good.
Marilyn Manson's first steps were pretty good ones. While this album is certainly inferior to his future endeavors, it's certainly a good listen. It's sense of cheesy horror, crazy instrumentals, and quite a bit of creativity makes this album a fun listen and certainly something you should try out.