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It's been a long time since Marilyn Manson truly seemed like a transgressive force, but when you spend a lifetime crafting a persona as a rock & roll boogeyman, it's not only hard to shake that image, it's unlikely that you'd want to shake it. Manson has never shown any indication that he's wanted to change, which somehow came as a surprise to his betrothed, burlesque diva Dita Von Teese, who according to published reports in the wake of their divorce seemed shocked, shocked that Manson wanted to stay up late and take drugs, the kind of eternally adolescent behavior that only rock & roll stars can get away with as they approach 40. Better for Marilyn to sever that marriage and turn toward a true teenager: Evan Rachel Wood, the blandly pretty star of Thirteen who provided MM with a brand-new muse for Eat Me, Drink Me, his sixth studio album. Frankly, Manson probably needed something to shake up his music, which started to become comfortably predictable in the wake of his popular/creative peak of Mechanical Animals, but the stab at soul-baring on Eat Me might not have been the way to do it. But Manson is such a true believer in rock & roll mythos that he's wound up embracing the cliché of the post-divorce confessional album, peppering this album with songs about broken relationships and new love. Personal songs are unusual for Manson, but that doesn't mean he's abandoned his tendency to write about grand concepts. The difference is that this time around, Manson himself is the grand concept -- there's no excursions into neo-glam or decadent German glamour -- which may give him a lyrical hook, but not a musical one. On a sonic level this is a bit of Manson-by-numbers -- all his signatures are in place, from the liberal appropriations of Diamond Dogs to the cheerful immersion in dirges and his tuneless vampire drone -- but it feels as if his usual murky menace has lifted, with the music sounding clearer, less affected, and obtuse, while still retaining much of its gothic romanticism and churning heaviness. If anything, Eat Me is a bit too transparent, as its clean arena rock production -- all pumped up on steroids, devoid of much grit -- makes the album sound safe, a bit too close to Manson cabaret for comfort, especially when he's penning songs whose very titles feel like unwitting self-parodies ("If I Was Your Vampire," "You and Me and the Devil Makes 3," "They Said That Hell's Not Hot"), or when he lazily spews out profanity as the chorus to "Mutilation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery." These are the moments where Manson seems like the eternal teenager, unwilling and unable to grow up, and they provide a bitter ironic counterpoint to the rest of the record, where he is striving for an emotional honesty he's never attempted before. Put these two halves together, and Eat Me, Drink Me becomes an intriguing muddle, an interesting portrait of Manson at the cusp of middle-age melancholy even if as sheer music it's the least visceral or compelling he's ever been.