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Discs

>Rock

Marilyn Manson

Eat Me, Drink Me

[Interscope]

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Ozzy Osbourne is your grandfather after he has had a few too many at the family reunion. Gene Simmons has his own reality show on A&E, in which he is revealed as less fire-breathing demon, more concerned and involved dad. Alice Cooper is a golfer, for goodness' sake. Turns out none of these guys actually sold their soul to Satan in exchange for hard-rock success and more girls than your garden-variety Lothario could feasibly handle.

Marilyn Manson, however, is still pretty scary. Not because of his shock-rock exterior. No, Manson's truly terrifying visage lies beneath his motel-tanned skin and stock goth-romantic's mode of dress. In there, it's dark, barely furnished, always twilit and populated by one rather lonely, troubled dude with a serious taste for absinthe. Manson's hallucinations, which provide the inspiration for his second-best album, the new "Eat Me, Drink Me," are probably far less intimidating than his untainted views of the world around him. He's Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Rimbaud and "Low"-era David Bowie rolled into one, though his art is yet to scale the heights of any of them.

In 1998, Manson transcended his previous industrial-goth-metal amalgamations with "Mechanical Animals," a glammy effort with an overarching ethos suggesting the artist's familiarity with both Bowie and Bauhaus. It appeared the record would be Manson's swan song, because his sporadic activity since suggested a man unsure of his artistic footing. "Eat Me, Drink Me" rights these wrongs and brings strong songwriting back to the fore. Teaming with KMFDM's Tim Skold was a good idea, for the man's wall of sinister guitar is perfect clothing for Manson's haunted croak, a voice capable of conjuring the most dramatic of dark-hearted arabesques at will throughout the always engaging record. This is Manson as musician and record-maker first, tattooed vampire second.

Because Manson is dropping the narcissistic Halloween-goth of his earliest work in favor of some open-hearted purging of pain, "Eat Me, Drink Me" is probably the first album he has made where one can feel comfortable taking him seriously. Its charms are hardly pleasant ones, mind you. Manson sounds like a man in trouble vacationing in hell with Kurt Weill, the two intent on chasing "the green fairy" through eternity. Folks looking for singles will find "Putting Holes in Happiness" fits the bill, but pulling the pieces apart only robs the record of the context that is both its strongest element and its most disturbing one. Manson has created a masterpiece of dark art.

-- Jeff Miers

***

>Classical

Brahms

String Quartets Op. 51 No. 1 and 2; String Quartet Op. 67, Piano Quintet Op. 34

Performed by the Emerson String Quartet and Leon Fleisher, piano

[Deutsche Grammophon, 2 CDs]

Review: 4 stars

Leon Fleisher is 78, but he still has a lot of life in him. From his 30s into his 60s, he lost the use of his right hand. Twelve years ago, he regained it, thanks partly to Botox (long story). The joy he takes in performance shines on his recording of Brahms' robust, sensual Piano Quintet, Op. 34. The Emerson Quartet, one of the world's best groups, shines on its own in the String Quartets Op. 51, No. 1 and 2, and the Quartet Op. 67. In an unusual, democratic arrangement, violinists Phil Setzer and Eugene Drucker alternate playing first and second violin, and both are wonderful, bringing a touch of the gypsy to the sensuous melodies.
Fleisher and the Emerson are radiant together. Their work could remind you of back when the Guarneri Quartet played Brahms with pianist Arthur Rubinstein, another much-older colleague who loved Brahms and loved life.

Bonus, not that we need one: Check out the two rare photographs in the CD booklet that show the aging, bearded Brahms near the end of his life. They're priceless, though they make you yearn for the age of big LP booklets, which would have given us a good look.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

***

>Jazz

Mark Soskin

One Hopeful Day

[Kind of Blue]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

Just because Mark Soskin was once Sonny Rollins' pianist was no reason to expect a straight-ahead jazz record as boiling and tasty as this one. A lot of functional musicians have passed through Sonny Rollins' bands along with the great ones. Nor does anything about Soskin's appearance portend a disc as good as this (he looks and dresses like a long-tenured professor of mineralogy at MIT).

This, though, is an intermittently brilliant disc in a genre becoming increasingly rare: the high-horsepower mainstream cooker where a full studio's worth of high-level players burn, blister and wail their way through completely fresh versions of originals and standards, jazz and otherwise. You know you're in for a treat in just the first two tunes: completely fresh arrangements of the hoary old standard "On the Street Where You Live" and "Bemsha Swing," a Thelonious Monk tune one wouldn't think would lend itself to as much imaginative rhythmic rethinking as goes into it here. (After Max Roach once added a timpani to his drum set on one Monk recording of the tune, you'd think its eternal allotment of off-the-wall ideas had been used up.)

It's the group Soskin assembled that could lend power and no small magic to almost anything -- tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Bill Stewart, bassist John Patitucci and, on two tunes, guitarist John Abercrombie. A lesser leader wouldn't have devised such splendid places for such splendid players to prove their splendidness, which makes Mark Soskin the kind of leader who has always mattered the most in jazz: the one who knows how to get the most out of the best players.

It's all here on as good a disc as Soskin is ever liable to make under his own name.

-- Jeff Simon

***

>Rock

Queens of the Stone Age

Era Vulgaris

Interscope]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

Josh Homme is master of all he surveys on "Era Vulgaris," the new album from the collective he leads known as Queens of the Stone Age. What he surveys isn't pretty, either. Homme's gift -- aside from his always reliable penchant for making classic rock tropes sound somehow boldly new and running punk through a Led Zeppelin filter -- is his ability to tread the tightrope between cynicism and romanticism, heart-rending melody and disturbingly angular complexity. For "Era," that means a jaundiced eye glancing toward the hollowness of generation iPod, while a rose-tinted pair of shades surveys the delights of both the physical and the less temporal forms of love.

It also means more big, fat guitar hooks than even a glutton for such might require. "Turnin' on the Screw" turns on one of these, as do several other bits on the album. But Homme is able to reconfigure them, not so much relying on the undeniable groove of the sturdy Zeppelin/Humble Pie riff as reimagining it within the cut-and-paste contemporary landscape. So "Misfit Love" is really new progressive rock, balancing unexpected chord changes and nicely layered vocal harmonies with the blatant hip-grinding strut of the verses. "Battery Acid" benefits from the same sort of light/shade manipulation.

That Homme can achieve the above would be enough to place him ahead of the majority of his peers, but when he then tosses in the twisted pop bounce of "Make It Wit Chu," or the skewed space-rock esoterica and jackboot march of "Suture Up Your Future," he leaves most of his class in the dust.

Much to digest here. If Homme's thesis on "Era Vulgaris" is sound, then most who hear this record won't take the time to fully unwrap and unfold its complexities. It'd be nice to prove him wrong.

-- J.M.

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