FOR YEARS, Marilyn Manson has been infatuated with the devil. Now, judging by his new CD, he wants to be David Bowie.
Manson thrives in the role of '90s shockmeister. The cover of his new album, featuring Manson as nude, female-breasted alien, was predictably banned by Wal-Mart and other major department stores.
Ironically enough, this time the Manson music inside the cover sleeve is surprisingly compelling. Manson, like the Bowie of the 1970s, moves to a glam rock sound that matches his gender-bending images and fashion statements.
Manson's work remains lurid, creepy and hedonistic. It just may be a perfect tonic for this grimy era of sexual and political obsessions. "The Dope Show" is an ideal Manson rant, a combination of glitter and dirt played against the background of grinding guitars and techno raves.
Manson's sound has been commercialized by co-producer Michael Beinhorn, with some help from Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. Those two guys added a slick layer to the recent Hole album, and the same thing happens with Manson. Dave Navarro, who played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, also makes an appearance on guitar and gives the Mason band new depth.
The music moves to a higher level on the fittingly titled "I Don't Like Drugs (But Drugs Like Me)." This is combination of metal, funk and R & B. Manson, like Bowie, plays all those musical roles with aplomb.
Manson weaves more blues and metal sound on "Fundamentally Loathsome" and "Rock Is Dead." No Manson album would be complete without shocking lyrics, and this one lives up to the Manson standard. Lines like "They slit out throats/Like we were flowers" or "She's got eyes like Zapruder/And a mouth like heroin" dribble from Manson's lips.
In a tepid era of rock 'n' roll, Manson has been designated as the king of schlock horror. He has picked up where Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne left off. Manson, though, is deeper than those artists.
On "Mechanical Animals," Manson actually appears to be making a statement on the state of life:
"I am resigned to this wicked . . . world/On its way to hell."
This time, the words are more than part of the act. Like "Cabaret" described pre-World War II Berlin, Manson's "Mechanical Animals" is a sewer-eye glimpse of modern-day decadence. Rating: *** 1/2 .
Bette Midler used to be a joy. Back in the '70s, her music was filled with fun, laughter and a goofy energy that made it unique. Then Bette became a big star and took herself far too seriously; her music career languished.
Midler is back with a thoroughly invigorating album that showcases the comic diva. "I'm Beautiful" is the Divine Miss M in all her glory. Against a jumpy R & B beat, Bette does a hip-hop take on a number that will make anyone smile.
"I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful, dammit," Bette raps, and when you hear her, you believe it. "Ukulele Lady" is another joyous number straight from Hawaii. "I'm Hip" is a swing number that will fill the dance floor.
Bette moves into a dirty blues on "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show." Midler also shows her serious side on the CD. "Song of Bernadette" is a touching, spiritual number. "Lullaby in Blue" features Midler singing a torch song from the heart, and she turns "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" into a harrowing ballad about drug addiction. Rating: ****.
moe. is a band with Buffalo roots. The group came together while attending college here, and after a couple years of playing local and regional clubs, it signed a national deal with Sony's 550 Records.
The group remains an improvisational band, in the mold of the Grateful Dead and Phish. It has a steady cult following but has yet to make a commercial breakthrough.
The new album showcases the strengths and weaknesses of moe. "Stranger Than Fiction" is a rollicking opening cut with a Southern twang.
The energy level falls on numbers such as "Spaz Medicine" and "Nebraska." moe. has a tendency to get lost in its freewheeling music and lacks cohesion. The mixture of jazz, blues and folk doesn't always blend.
moe. can rock when it wants to, though, and "Head" is a burst of energy. "Hi & Lo" is a light, jazzy number that floats with an easy groove.
moe. is still growing as a band and shows promise, but has yet to make its defining album. Rating: ***.
Paul Anka recently celebrated his 40th anniversary as a hitmaker. Anka was a pop pioneer back in the '50s and early '60s with such hits as "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "Diana" and "Lonely Boy."
He went on to mature as an artist and wrote "My Way" for Frank Sinatra as well as the "Tonight Show" theme for Johnny Carson.
Anka also had a tendency to make schmaltzy records such as the dreadful "Having My Baby," but that fails to detract from his talent and career accomplishments.
Anka just released his first U.S. album in nearly 14 years. He teams with fellow Canadian Celine Dion on "It's Hard to Say Goodbye," a tender ballad. Another emotional moment comes when Anka and his daughter, Anthea, combine for one of his standards, "Do I Love You."
The clock turns back to one of Anka's earliest hits as soulful Patti LaBelle brings a new feeling to "You Are My Destiny." Tom Jones turns up the heat with Anka on a slowed-down version of "She's a Lady."
Anka closes the album combining with the late Frank Sinatra on a somber and achingly sad "My Way." Sinatra granted Anka the rights to the recording shortly before his death.
"The technology let us bring his vocals into the track with a live band," Anka said. "We wanted this version to be different from the earlier recording: less macho, more romantic, nostalgic and lush."
It's a fitting tribute to Sinatra and Anka's remarkable career. Rating: *** 1/2 .
MARILYN MANSON Mechanical Animals (Uni/Interscope 90282)
BETTE MIDLER Bathhouse Betty (Warner Bros. 9 47078-2)
MOE. Tin Cans and Car Tires (550 Music 69157)
PAUL ANKA A Body of Work (Epic 69405)