The Omega and the Alpha: Mechanical Animals
by Paula O'Keefe (==angelynx==), c. 1998, Part 2...
"The Speed of Pain" [A] -- Sad, bitter and sweet, with a vintage-Bowie/Floyd stateliness and grace that's enriched by a vocodered gospel choir. Realization: though one hopes to "outrace the speed of pain", even love that hurts may still be real, and pain is better than no sensation at all.
"Just remember when you think you're free/the crack inside your fucking heart is me," Manson sings, evoking images of addiction and broken-heartedness simultaneously, either way making it clear that this Coma White isn't going to be rid of him anyday soon. "Speed of Pain" almost tricks you into believing it's going to be the "fuck off & die" track - "I wish I could sleep/but I can't lay on my back/because there's a knife for every day/that I've known you" - but the Alien/Angel is a new Manson, with a little more room to forgive and forget. "Keep all your secrets wrapped in dead hair," he sings quietly; he doesn't need to dig them out. Despite the knives in his back, the song retains its compassion, closing on the crooned refrain "hope that we die holding hands/for always." (And the Goths are still disappointed? what could be more Goth than that?)
(--just FYI: the literal speed of pain is 350 feet per second, or 240 MPH. That's how fast the nervous system can conduct sensation through the body.)
(Obscure internal reference: the sweetly cooed backing vocals ring one special bell for me, that being "Sure Know Something" from the Kiss Dynasty album - a single I played until its grooves were gray. Wouldn't mention this if I hadn't just read that the album is a Twig favorite.)
"Posthuman" [A] ---I think this one and its transition to "I Want to Disappear" are the crux of the record. So this will be long. --- "Posthuman" is a terrific, galloping piece, the only non-Omega hard rocker and thus the one that's most intense and sincere. It's also the only MA song in which the Alien/Angel summons up the power and fire of the Antichrist Superstar, and that's significant, because in this one he crystallizes what he learned in that role and swings it like a bright scorching sword.
The reference to the Kennedy assassination, the first thing of the kind in a Manson song since he gave up on serial killers, is precise: Kennedy was the first real television president, his death a national catharsis and mythic hero sacrifice. This track's "she" (not a "you" and probably not a Comawhite) has "eyes like Zapruder", the cameraman who shot the famous grassy-mound assassination footage; "she wants me to be perfect like Kennedy" and in her dreams "she's a saint like Jackie O". - Ergo, she craves Manson's death like it's chocolate, polishing the image of herself at his side in a shot-up limo; a soap-opera star-by-association, a tragic heroine like the legendary and bloodspattered First Widow. Well, fuck that. "Show me the dead stars, all of them sing," roars Manson in a full-throttle fury, summoning them all up from JFK to Kurt Cobain and Princess Diana but refusing to stand at their side--"this is a riot, religious and clean." Religious and clean - a real, not vicarious, experience of spirit. He rejects the whole cultic, necrophiliac mock-religion of dead icons and TV martyrs - "This isn't God! This isn't God!"- rasping in an ACS-reminiscent line that God is a statistic, "a number you cannot count to." His walk through hell gave him his life's clearest understanding of the soul and its sources. God is a mystery, God is in the heart or in music or you; God is not this synthetic hysteria, this gruesome, Catholic sickness of souvenirs and shed blood. He sees over and through and won't play this game anymore. (And I'll bet he's over his sniper-phobia too.)
-- Once the idea of God hunted him through the streets like a mob with torches, and in his confusion and distress he even wondered if he was supposed to die, if his mythic role might be that of black sacrificial lamb. He walked onstage with cerements dripping blood for the final encore, a Jesus who never rose, a beautiful, heartrending gesture to pierce the guilt of all fathers who willingly sacrifice their children. But he's past that now, past that idea of God. He expects to die - expects the end of the world - but he knows he's not a sacrifice. And in reconnecting to his old passion and righteous rage he finds that he hasn't lost everything, that this emotion is real, and still his own.
[Footnote. Manson picked up this theme again in a post to the band's website board and included another brilliant pun:
"I love to let you see through my brain
rewinding and replaying.
I love to let you shoot through my brain,
and what are we really selling?
and what are we really buying?"
...whew, so many levels it's almost holographic. "shoot through my brain" - at once evoking the fate of JFK and the sense of subjective camera, equal to "see through my eyes" - it's like a retrace of the frightening "kill yourself on TV" sequence from the last album's "Mr. Superstar". Bullet = footage: each one spills the insides of someone's skull for the world to see. And we, the "little zapruders", are the ones taking the shot, "rewinding and replaying" every word/frame, sifting the bones for clues. He never does let us off the hook.
- or himself; we're all complicit here; he's the one who says he loves it...]
...we now return you to your regularly scheduled program...
--in a seamless transition we hear the cheering and stomping of a crowd, a processed voice announces "Ladies and gentlemen, Omega and the Mechanical Animals"--
"I Want To Disappear" [O] Man, this one's twisted. Shrilling guitars and huge fuzz bass lines give it a thunderous kick but Manson takes it right over the top and through the wall. Sung in a whiplashed punk sneer that'd be funny if it weren't so acid (he even says "I'm so vacant"!), the lyric's drenched with, choking on, its own self-contempt. "Look at me now/I was a virgin/grew up to be a whore/and I want it/I believe it..." It's the "and I want it" that twists the garrote, the mixture of yeah-so-what defiance and gone-to-hell desperation that Manson/Omega forces into his voice. "We love the abuse, because it makes us feel like we are needed" - pain is all Omega has left to feel and all he'll acknowledge from others. Nothing means anything to him anymore...his mommy's lost and his daddy's a stranger, he's too bored even for nihilism and it'll take all your drugs to make him come. He's the pure polar opposite of the newborn, reborn, vulnerable being on the other end of his spectrum, the one whose emotions are seeping back in as slowly and painfully as Omega's were leeched out. He can't stand up to and defy the vultures of the media, because he needs their attention ("Look at me now!" he cries, like the Cat in the Hat) as much as he hates it - fame is his Coma White. He scars himself mercilessly ("I wish I wasn't me..."): he's become as synthetic, he feels, as his alter ego is genuine, and he loathes himself for it. Makes you flinch just to think about it....Does he envy his counterpart? Can he feel any of its feelings? -- (Cripes, it is literally hard to believe this is being sung by the same person who sang the one before it; the halves of this soul have a gulf between them as wide as the Milky Way.)
"I Don't Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)" [O] -- Ponderous, funny-slash-annoying 70's funk number satirizing the self-righteous who've cleaned up, found religion and/or supposedly kicked their habits. There must be something of value in here - besides the gospel singers, who're great - but I'm just damned if I see it. Is he saying that public confession and goodguy badges are just a new form of dope for such people, that everybody's hooked on something? Are lines like "we're piss-tested and we're praying" and "like Christians at a suicide" pointing up the fact that leanin' on Jesus is just another form of dependency? (--which if true would make the addition of the gospel choir really goddamn snide...) Everyone has a Coma White... (note from a recent Manson interview: "The more I listen to the record now, the more I want to perform it." If you don't crave one thing, you crave something else.)-- True no matter what your poison may be, though: "There's a hole in our soul that we fill with dope/and we're feeling fine." Likeliest Bowie cue: "Fame" (Manson even does a credible Bowie vocal cop on the phrase "fifteen minutes of sha-ame...").
"New Model No. 15" [O] -- Stinging, bitterly funny rocker. Here's one good reason to numb one's feelings: so you don't feel it when you're sliced up and served like cake. Our narrator satirizes himself as a product in great demand, lifelike, poseable and almost real, a sort of all-purpose Marilyn Mandroid. So sick with self-hate he can hardly stand it: "Better in the head and in bed and at the office, I can suck it and smile." (As pre-noted, Omega is cruelly likely to characterize himself as a whore.) As harsh as "I Want To Disappear" ("I'm as fake as a wedding cake...I've got nothing inside") but with a little more distance and irony plus a rash of wry magazine-title puns: "I'm Spun and I know that I'm Homopolitan... I'm Vague and I know that I'm Stoned and Rolling". The track's New Wave-ish sound with handclaps, poppy keyboards and growling, jittery lead guitar lines - plus one "pitifully predictable" solo - draws out the commercial theme. I can't think of a song that makes being a household name sound more nauseating.
--External referent: scene in the "Dope Show" video in which the Alien demolishes a roomful of mannequins of himself. Likeliest cue: jury's hung between the Knack's 15 minutes of fame, "My Sharona", and Devo's "Girl U Want".
"User Friendly" [O] -- Here's the "fuck off & die" song that "Speed of Pain" isn't. A hateful little number aimed like a fistful of darts and laced with sexy girlnoises (courtesy one Dyanna Lauren, who's credited with "pornography") to underline the point, this one's flat-and-simply about dope/fucking with people who couldn't care less. Machine sex, yet another symptom of the atrophied soul, another result of nonfeeling and a good reason not to feel. (Or maybe that's just typical of dope. Or Los Angeles.) The chorus is about as barefaced as it gets: "I'm not in love, but I'm gonna fuck you till somebody better comes along." Gee, thanks. --Omega/Manson is at least still alive enough to find this distasteful, protesting "I've bled just to have your touch...You'd never die just for me." But this one flicker of self-respect is his last. "Use me like I was a whore/relationships are such a bore," he jabs, but doesn't show any sign of walking out - after all, that's not far from Omega's own painful opinion of himself - and the whole thing festers like a sore. Sounds unhealthy too, with off-balance wheedling keyboards, video-game bips and bleeps and even some scratching - executed by Neil Strauss, no less!
Bitter, complex title pun says almost more than the song does, not only equating an emotionless "lover" with a compliant machine and bringing in the drug theme (multi-leveled meanings of "user" here), but satirizing the term itself as it applies to computers, a pathetic attempt to humanize and lend warmth to our machines even as we grow more robotic ourselves.
"Fundamentally Loathsome" [O] -- (beat THAT title!)...Omega lays his cards on the table: "When I hate it I know I can feel, but when you love you know it's not real." It's just too much easier for him to trust in hate, his longtime familiar spirit, than to believe in the possibility of love, which he barely knows. ("I want to wake up in your world with no pain," he wails, which for Omega would mean not waking up at all...) Omega can't make the transition his alter-ego has nearly gained, already resigned to his dissociative world of the living dead - "a wicked fuckin' world on its way to hell". He sounds, in fact, like a black parody of the Antichrist Superstar, that personality taken to its postnihilist extreme. (you may remember that this line was tested out as a between-song rap on the ACS tour: "In a wicked world/on the way to hell/we know what to do and we do it well".) --The song paces along carefully for the first half, leaving lots of space for the story, then suddenly rises up in a dense wall of power guitars and drives to the climax while Omega grinds his teeth over whether you or he ought to die first...
"The Last Day On Earth" [A] -- Ladies, gentlemen, and Omega: may I present a reason to live. A breathtakingly beautiful, epic, ground-zero romance, airbrushed with glowing synthesizer sweeps on a vast sundown soundscape. Has made me cry every time I've heard it.--One word makes it all possible: "Now I've found you and it's almost too late..." Almost. But not quite. Just in time to be saved and hold hands in the ruins.
"In all my past lives I played an asshole," Manson cries, reaching for this final chance to get it right, and makes the last admission he must make: he can't go it alone. His struggle to become a self-sufficient superman has shown him - paradoxically - the value of the ability to feel, and to be cared for. Especially when you've made enemies. "I'm so empty here without you/I know they want me dead," he sings from an opened heart, an extraordinary confession, and someone hears him. Out here on the perimeter - where there are no stars - our narrator and his soulmate, fallen almost beyond redemption, trembling and frail as glass, acknowledge the possibility of true love. And are raised from despair by its transformative grace. (Some things you depend on are actually good for you.) Over a wide-screen, Numanesque synth track of vast unearthly purity - praise too for Ginger and Zim's tasteful work - we make our vows: "We'll be together while the planet dies...we'll never say goodbye." We're the last generation, "damaged provider modules" who can't provide, but at least we can face the end as true humans with human souls.
Of course, that's an optimistic reading (as was Rolling Stone's endearing theory that the "you" of the song and the album is us, the faithful Spookykids of the world)-- "you" could just as easily be just some other drug, anything he finds sustaining. But let's go with it for story's sake. --Manson has said that the sadness of this album rises from his foreboding sense that his rebirth may have come too late: that though he's become a feeling being who may not want the world to end, he may not be in time to stop the apocalyptic tide that, as Antichrist Superstar, he bent all his powers toward raising. If that be so, then both Omega and Alpha acknowledge it, but Alpha adds a final human impulse - if we're too late to step on the brake, at least we want to be holding someone's hand when we go over the cliff. Not what everyone would call a happy ending, but for this record it's practically paradise.
--If RS is, or I am, right (oh, let's hope) it's the turn of a card. He makes his choice, separating from Omega and his killing despair; he reverses from Omega back to Alpha, choosing humanity, starting all over again. It's a little triumph, as little as opening your eyes after weeks in a coma, but it makes all the difference on earth.
"Coma White" [A] -- Manson has characterized this as the "tragic ending" but it feels like a coda really, an anticlimax to the saving of our narrator's bonebleached soul. What then of our shadowy heroine, the troubled but ultimately beloved Comawhite? Is she - and this one is a she, seemingly a specific one - too far gone to save? "There's something cold and blank behind her smile," observes the Angel of the lost girl with her lost toys, concluding sadly that "all the drugs in this world won't save her from herself." She has further to go than our narrator had... The chorus "You come from a perfect world/a world that threw me away today" would ordinarily have been read as coming from the freak outsider Manson to the Hollywood star, yet the booklet clearly attributes them to Coma: is it then the Alien whose world seems perfect? Is it his decision that she must save herself that makes her feel "thrown away"? Which - if any - of all the masks in the CD is truly Coma White, and what is Coma White for her? If everything in the song addressed to "you" is her voice speaking, then she's the one reciting the litany - "a pill to make you numb, a pill to make you dumb, a pill to make you anybody else" - and she might just be a person, strung-out and lonely, one we know;
or if we were Comawhite, then for us Comawhite might be Manson, and it's we who have to save ourselves...
...the voice of a drug, of this record, of anything you think you need more than your soul.
...read my first ACS piece, Worms With Angel Wings
...or my second and longer one, Apokalypsis.
...go back to my Manson page.