Just about the time we can safely dismiss Marilyn Manson as a celebrity whore with a chronic and serious addiction to the MTV awards-show spotlight, here comes a powerful reminder of how he earned his millions in the first place.
Manson’s first greatest hits album is not only a prideful look back at past successes, like most such discs. It’s also a blueprint of how rock music transformed itself in the post-Nirvana world of the mid-1990s, going from grungy guitars to the glitz and ghoulish glamour of Trent Reznor and Manson himself.
Of course, all of the stadium-pleasing songs are here, such as “The Dope Show” and “The Beautiful People,” but the real meat of the disc is elsewhere, where Manson and Reznor discover, as if by accident, a winning formula for songwriting and producing. Even after shedding Reznor, Manson continues learning and displaying new tricks.
Take an early song such as Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” cover from 1994, which is basically a novelty song full of amateurish growling, and put it up against the lone new song here, a 2004 take on Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.”
Whereas “Sweet Dreams” was a one-joke song, “Personal Jesus” takes the original and transforms it into a Manson classic by retooling it from the ground up. The vocals are infinitely better, the instrumentation more polished and the drums follow the trademarked Manson tribal style. It’s like watching a minor-league ballplayer grow into a World Series MVP.
He may have started as a goth shock-rock act, but the past decade has seen Manson grow and evolve, surprisingly, into a poor man’s David Bowie. Like the Thin White Duke, Manson’s music always possesses the capability to transcend its context as a typical rock song and become a social and artistic statement unique to its time.
While Lest We Forget is no Changesonebowie (there’s far too much filler on the former to achieve the latter’s greatness), it’s nonetheless a legacy builder and commanding retrospective capable of erasing most of Manson’s personal excesses and embarrassments. It does exactly what Manson intended it to do: It re-establishes Marilyn Manson as one of rock’s greatest and most influential acts of the past 10 years.