Review Summary: The starting grounds to stardom.
Before the 70’s inspired album, before the war against religion, the government and the media attacks, the concept albums and before all the line-up changes that gives Dave Mustaine a run for his money, there was a more innocent (to a degree) time for Marilyn Manson.
This 1994 LP, produced by both Trent Reznor and the frontman himself is a little rough around the edges when compared to the other LPs in Manson’s career. Portrait of An American Family
unfortunately, hasn’t aged as gracefully as the other albums from the discography. Still, every band has its starting points and as it happens Portrait of an American Family
still has the odd enjoyable moment. If there is one thing to take into account before listening to Portrait of An American Family
, it’s to put any preconceptions of this LP to one side before listening. You won’t find much of anything really substantial in the way of concepts, it has its themes – as the title suggests – but you won’t find much of anything that really made Marilyn Manson the household name he is today, rather you’ll catch glimmers of what makes the band great in the future. Manson’s music has always kept pretty simple in terms of musical sound, but here you’ll find the music extremely simple; so simple it’s clearly obvious when listening to the LP that the members of Marilyn Manson were just getting to grips with their instruments at the time. The same can be said for Manson himself, as his voice lacks any really power, his approach to songs just seems to have him wail and drone talk through tracks.
Sound samples of movies or TV shows are scattered around the album and it’s these samples that make the album sound the most glaringly dated. What’s worse is it ruins the band's tone, making the band sound like a comedy act rather than a heavy sounding band. "Dope Hat" with the hypnotic effects, or "Cake and Sodomy" with the Rob Zombie-esque samples of chatter -- they don’t bring anything to the table, rather ruin any kind of momentum the band are trying to build. Another problem is the length of the album: due to the lack of creative musicianship on offer the songs often wane quickly and thus overstay their welcome. There is some tell tale signs of the band growing though, tracks like "Cyclops" and "Organ Grinder" show the groove side of the band, while "Wrapped in plastic" shows the experimental side of the band that is seen on future records. Athough musically simple, if you look past the glaringly dated samples and lack of good songwriting, the music is fun for what it is.
Overall, it’s hard to recommend this LP to fans. The production does this album no favours as it has more of a 90’s alt-rock feel than the vibes fans are used to on other Mason records. And with nothing particularly interesting cooked up instrumentally or vocally, due to the band being in that “finding their sound” stage, it makes things even harder to recommend. If you really want to listen to everything Manson it's worth the interest to give it a quick spin, it isn’t a terrible record and it has a couple of moments. Just don't expect anything you know and love about the band. For the most part though, it is an entry that was at a juvenile time in Manson’s career.