"Whenever anyone makes a new record, they want to say it's totally new, totally different," Marilyn Manson told me in February 2007, when Revolver interviewed him during the mixing of Eat Me, Drink Me. "But this is a completely different transformation for me."
He wasn't kidding. Released on June 5th, 2007 — over four years after the release of his previous album, the chart-topping The Golden Age of Grotesque — Eat Me, Drink Me was indeed different than anything Manson had ever done before. After five albums of establishment-baiting shock-rock anthems, Eat Me, Drink Me found Manson in a surprising personal (and vulnerable) frame of mind. For the first time in his career, the man born Brian Hugh Warner was actually writing about himself and his own inner struggles, rather than writing shit-stirring rants for his theatrical persona.
This unexpected development was spurred by a miserable year which saw Manson's much-publicized marriage to burlesque artist Dita Von Teese fall apart, and saw Manson sink into a depression so debilitating that he found himself not even wanting to make music. It was, he said, "the most fucked-up time in my life, ever ... It's really weird to go through some kind of dark depression that you can never explain to anybody else. I can't even put it into music, because it's nothing that you would be proud of, because it's all about the shame you feel when you're helpless inside yourself. It's not something that I find worth exploiting in any way. It was one of those things where I was truly the only person who could save myself."
Manson may have pulled himself out of it in the end, but the initial catalyst for his recovery was actually music provided by Tim Sköld, his bassist and co-producer on The Golden Age of Grotesque. In late 2006, Manson began to shake off his funk by singing over tracks written and recorded entirely by Sköld; the songs that would eventually comprise Eat Me, Drink Me quickly began to flow from there, beginning with "Just a Car Crash Away." "I came out of it by writing a song," he said of "Car Crash," "and that one song turned into a record. It was most impossible battle to get to making the record. But once I started singing, it was the easiest and quickest thing I've ever created."
The anguished, discomfiting "Car Crash" set the tone for the rest of the album, with lyrics wrenched from deep within himself. "It occurred to me one day to write exactly about what I was feeling, in almost a biographical way, a diary sort of sense," he explained. "And I found it to be so rewarding, in a way. I can't really say that it made me happy — it wasn't like having a musical outlet to exorcize all my problems, all those clichés that people say, whether they're clichés or not to the person saying it. But this was the only salvation that I had going for me."
Manson being Manson, of course, he delivered these missives from his dark-night-of-the-soul period with flamboyance and grandiosity to spare; the gothic, blood-soaked, death-haunted lyrics of songs like "Just a Car Crash Away," "The Red Carpet Grave," "Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery" and "If I Was Your Vampire" (which Manson colorfully claimed to have written on Christmas Day) were all redolent of a distinctly romantic sensibility, at least in the 19th century sense.
"I compare love to fire, and how it consumes everything and scars everything and changes everything," he said of "Just a Car Crash Away." "A couple of people I played it for have cried, but I don't think it's sad — I think it's terribly romantic, in a Bram Stoker sort of way. Things were more tragic in times when death was very much a great part of romance ...
"Hope and romance are kind of hand in hand," he continued. "I think you can only dream of a greater life if you're sharing it with someone. If you're alone, no one is really there to witness your life, so maybe you don't exist. So there's a 'let's jump in the river together' sort of conclusion that I've drawn. It's not, 'Til death do us part' — it's, 'We don't part, and death is the first step.' It's not completely suicidal. It's that you're willing to give yourself over to someone."
The album's lyrics — especially on "Are You the Rabbit?" and the title track — were also clearly influenced by Manson's obsession with 19th century English writer Charles Dodgson, better known by the penname Lewis Carroll. At the time of recording Eat Me, Drink Me, Manson had already been immersed for nearly years in writing a script for the film Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll; Manson was slated to direct the project, which would also feature him in a starring role as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (The film has yet to see the light of day.) Still, Manson explained that the title Eat Me, Drink Me was not just a Carroll reference.
"It's a real strange litmus test when people hear it," he said. "Some people automatically associate it with Christ, and some people automatically associate it with Alice in Wonderland. To me, it's a combination of both, in the sense of consummation and cannibalism." To the latter point, Manson said that he'd been particularly fascinated with the case of German cannibal Armin Meiwes, who in 2001 killed, cooked and ate his lover Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes, entirely with Brandes' consent. "I found the story very compelling, in a romantic way," said Manson. "I think a lot of people probably won't be able to look at it in the same way that it was romantic, but it was to [Meiwes and Brandes] in some sick way — and it is to me in some sick way, too. And I'm very fine with being this kind of sick, versus the kind of sick that I was before, when there wasn't anything that could make me have hope in the world."
Manson had clearly found hope again by the time of our February 2007 interview, and romance, as well — he had gone public the month before about his relationship with actress Evan Rachel Wood, who was only 19 at the time. (Manson was 38.) "Heart-Shaped Glasses (When the Heart Guides the Hand)" was inspired by Wood, who also appeared in the song's erotically-charged video. And while Manson wouldn't confirm it at the time, Wood was also likely the inspiration for "If I Was Your Vampire," the oppressively atmospheric album opener, which Manson described as "very much the centerpiece of the album." "Let me put it this way," he said when recalling the song's genesis. "Someone said to me, when I was in a fit of sheer anger, and I think it was the strongest thing anyone has ever said to me ... I was mad, and someone grabbed a knife and said, 'You can stab me.' And I don't know what other kind of commitment you can really get in life that measures up to that."
Eat Me, Drink Me was the first album of Manson's career where he didn't collaborate with a band — Sköld played all the instruments, and his music gave record a considerably more goth-flavored sound than Manson's fans were used to. Ditto for Manson's vocals, which showed a far greater capacity for nuance, emotion and melody than he'd previously demonstrated.
"On this record, I really wanted to sing," he explained, "and that has to come from a naked, emotional place ... People who have heard it, they get the emotion from it right away. And it's not a record about me crying into songs about my problems, my woes. But I think this record will speak to more people in different ways because of its total human element. I think, lyrically, it's the thing I'm most proud of. I find it kind of strange that I could put so much work into expressing how I thought and felt about so many different things, all these years, but never how I really felt about myself. And when I did it, I realized that this is the record I'd worked all my life to get to."
While Eat Me, Drink Me failed to follow The Golden Age of Grotesque to the top of the charts, it still reached a very respectable No. 8 on the Billboard 200, and was favorably received by critics. But rather than charting a new artistic course for Manson, Eat Me, Drink Me turned out to be something of an anomaly. Sköld left the fold before the recording of 2009's The High End of Low, on which Manson reunited with former bassist and collaborator Twiggy Ramirez and returned to the sociopolitical lyrics and gear-grinding industrial glam he'd mined on albums like 1998's Mechanical Animals. Though his 2015 collaboration with score composer Tyler Bates — 2015's The Pale Emperor and 2017's Heaven Upside Down — arose from a working relationship similar to the one he enjoyed with Sköld on Eat Me, Drink Me, the music on those albums would be far more rock-oriented, while Manson's lyrics have never been quite so personal or vulnerable again.
But perhaps the anomalous nature of Eat Me, Drink Me is part of why it still feels like one of the most extraordinary entries in Manson's discography. No other Manson album has revealed so much about its creator, just as no other Manson album has so powerfully testified to the transformative powers of love and art.
"I don't want to give people advice about depression and how to feel," he said in 2007. "All I know is that I made myself find something to believe in. I'm just happy, and that's a strange word to use, but I'm happy because I actually enjoyed making this record more than any record I've enjoyed. It's dark and it's painful, and I've been going through a dark and painful period in my life, and I've found a way to make it better…
"And it's not just like I'm 'exorcizing my demons,'" he added with a laugh. "I keep my demons well-exercised, because I need them to be in shape to support me in what I do. But I'm not trying to get rid of them."