Platinum Anniversary Album Series
Here’s my latest entry in a series on albums that still matter 20 years after their release.
The most notable thing about Marilyn Manson’s debut is that it’s Marilyn Manson’s debut. That’s not to say it’s a throwaway album; I think it’s one of the best the band have ever done. But if you’re not already a fan of Manson and didn’t love Antichrist Superstar there’s no reason to check out this offering.
The best thing about Portrait is the hunger. This isn’t millionaire Marilyn Manson who doesn’t really need to but keeps releasing awful albums. This is a band learning their craft and clawing their way to the top. The songs have the raw, unfocused energy of punk rock, but also make heavy use of samples and keyboard like industrial metal. The corset and torn stocking goth look wasn’t perfected yet and Marilyn Manson had a lot to prove.
After the Willy Wonka prelude, the album starts off with what I think is the best song on the album, “Cake and Sodomy”. The juxtaposition of lyrics about televangelists and phone-sex numbers mix perfectly with the repetitive bass line and Daisy Berkowitz’s juvenile guitars.
“Lunchbox” is mostly notable for being the last time Marilyn Manson wore bluejeans in a video. Aside from that it has perhaps the best guitar riff and is probably the best written song on the album.
“Dope Hat” has the most punk/industrial crossover vibe. All the instruments play simple three-chord progressions (aside from some crazy guitar solos) and the vocals aren’t the most challenging. I’ve always loved this one for the Willy Wonka and carnival images, it’s definitely the most fun.
I’ve never understood what “Get Your Gunn” is about, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. It has a great riff and a chorus I can sing along with, even if I have no idea what I’m singing about.
Another high point is the band reworking “Mechanical Man” from Charles Manson’s Lie into “My Monkey.” It’s a take on Uncle Charlie’s tune that I never would have thought of. With a great horn section, processed vocals and what sounds like a 10-year-old singing along. It may be the most shocking point on the album. Of course, now the most shocking thing Marilyn Manson could do it to release an album half as good as Portrait of an American Family.
A lot of the other songs are throwaway tracks and filler. There are some high points; “Organ Grinder” has a great keyboard melody. “Wrapped in Plastic” features the second bet guitar riff of the album, but loses mainly because it’s a little more slow and laid back. “Cyclops” has a great solo.
I like to think that if I was hearing Portrait in 1994 I would know this was a band to watch, but I can’t be certain. It’s obvious that there is potential here, but it’s difficult to connect this with the remix and covers EP Smells Like Children from ’95 or the breakthrough Antichrist Superstar a year after that,
But then again, maybe the best thing about this album is hearing the Antichrist before he was a superstar.
For more Platinum Anniversary Albums: