Marilyn Manson is happy to upset the fans, but the band knows better than to confuse them. From the cover, the posters, the first single (“The Dope Show”), interested parties know what they’re getting—the new MM record, dubbed Mechanical Animals. But nothing indicates that they’re buying something else—the new MM, masquerading on the inside flap as “Omega and the Mechanical Animals,” and here’s Manson with freaky red hair and fake fur, insectoid, alien, and androgynous. Like a spider or something, from, like, Mars. Infamous frontman Manson knows about Ziggy Stardust even if the fans won’t make the connection or care to; since he’s never bothered to differentiate showmanship from business acumen, his glam move covers both. As long as he aspired to grinding industrial visions, the popster in him suffered—for all its notoriety, Antichrist Superstar couldn’t live up to the sheen of intellectualism that comes with the genre. Mechanical Animals sounds smarter and sharper than Manson’s previous work, pessimistic glitter rock being the sort of genre that elevates any artist who essays it. A speeding click track backs up Twiggy Ramirez’s squealing guitars while scary space-age sound effects punctuate or gloss the mix—it’s meta-rock, where nothing sounds real, from the chick singers cheeping, “Hey, hey!” in the chorus on “Posthuman” to the “hard-rock” chops in “New Model No. 15.” Whatever Manson is singing about in his strained, plummeting vibrato (usually drugs, fame, and phoniness, spiced with lurid pop-culture invocations), the band members pose like crazy, totally engaged in their roles as anti-superstars for a new millennium—and not 2000, either. Looking backward or forward, Mechanical Animals both “rocks” and rawks. It even goes straight punk with “I Want to Disappear,” using the potent self-description “vacant,” chomping through a meaty chorus, and wrapping it up in a title one negative away from the Ramones’ early repertoire of total refusal. Manson may believe that “Rock Is Dead,” but he makes sure we can dance to it.—Arion Berger