He puts on a terrific panto. Manson is the principal boy, in red glittery stockings and posing pouch. His bassist, Twiggy Ramirez, is wearing a cocktail dress, so he must be the dame. (The band take their surnames from serial killers and their first names - their Anti-christian names? - from sex icons.) There are stilts, strobe lights, dancing girls ... during "The Speed of Pain" there is even a flurry of artificial snow, some of which ends up adhering to Manson's naked buttocks.
The music isn't bad, either. In concert, it's a case of noise over content, to the extent that the drummer has three bass drums in a row - what does he use, one wonders, to play the third one? But on this year's album, Mechanical Animals (Interscope), you can hear the material more clearly, and it's great fun, if suspiciously familiar. Who does this remind you of? It's bombastic but sleek glam rock, with lyrics about space and the end of the world. In the booklet photos, Manson presents himself as a thin, white, extra terrestrial hermaphrodite in silver stack heels. And he invents another name for himself and his band: Omega and the Mechanical Animals. Even his tired, wired groan of a voice is just like David Bowie, circa 1972.
Mechanical Animals does have its non-Bowie influences. As well as the Nirvana guitars and the Prodigy effects, "I Want To Disappear" lifts a riff from "20th Century Boy" by T Rex, arch-rivals of Bowie. And "The Dope Show" copies Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing", co-written and produced by, yes, David Bowie. I don't know if they sell sparkly thongs in Oxfam shops, but everything else about Marilyn Manson is second-hand.
To be fair, the Bowie homage is so blatant that Manson can't be hoping that no one notices. It must be a satire, a Cook Report expose of how easy it is to calculate your way to stardom in today's retrogressive, MTV-dominated music industry with ideas that were extant a quarter of a century ago. Manson's act could also be a satire on how easily offended a nation America is. His shows are routinely picketed by the religious right because of his liberal use of the word "fish", and because of his unkind remarks about God. On Thursday, he declared that Jesus invented cocaine - not a miracle I remember from Sunday school, but one that certainly puts the water-to-wine trick in the shade.
Nothing he says can compare with the stories we've heard about Gary Glitter of course, but Manson has made a reasonable effort. He's got up the noses of all the right people, he's sold several million albums, and his girlfriend is a Hollywood beauty. I'm willing to believe he's less of a dumb rock star than a parody of one. And sometimes the parody is quite funny. For "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)", the word DRUGS appears in giant flashing letters at the back of the stage: pure Spinal Tap.
All the same, Manson's satire doesn't travel well.There were no placards outside the Brixton Academy. There were no protests. We're more indulgent of this hoary sort of pantomime than America is, so what does Marilyn Manson have to offer us? He is defined by his opposition - by whatever he is "anti" - and if no one is outraged by him, he has nothing left to say. It's a shame his act is so limited. Rather than mocking this century, couldn't he try to be a 21st-Century-Boy instead? If he had the courage to address some original subject matter, he'd be putting his theatrical flair, his spanking tunes and his pert buttocks to a much better use.
Rob Zombie is Manson without the pretensions. Obsessed by B- movies and horror comics, Zombie puts on a comedy schlock 'n' roll circus. On the backdrop there is a massive skull wearing those adjustable eye-test spectacles which opticians slot lenses into. The guitarist and bassist are snarling troglodytes who deliberately give the impression that standing on their hind legs is a newly acquired trait. Rob is the ringmaster. His cadaverous make-up is counterpointed by ragged clothes, a long coat, a long beard and matted dreadlocks, the unfortunate effect being that he looks less like a re-animated corpse than like Fagin with impetigo, especially when he does his hopping, skipping dance across the stage. You keep expecting him to sing "It's a Fine Life." And maybe he does. Between the breakneck, pneumatic-drill judder of the music and Rob's less than careful enunciation, I can't make out a word he says. Still, the addition of scratching drum loops and samples suggests that there is a brain behind the panstick. Mr and Mrs Zombie should be very proud.
Rob Zombie's opening act was Monster Magnet. Eschewing Hallowe'en make- up and sequinned underwear in favour of leather trousers and T-shirts advertising other heavy metal bands, Monster Magnet's fashion touchstone is Iron Maiden as they dressed in 1981 (not dissimilar to how Iron Maiden dress In 1998, come to think of it). Their leader, Dave Wyndorf, wears an unfastened waistcoat to show off his work-out physique: his pectoral muscles are so well-developed that he has a deeper cleavage than the semi-naked women on his album sleeve. Strangely at odds with this musculature is his long, silky hair and a tepid attempt at a moustache and beard: the head of Jay Kay from Jamiroquai grafted onto the body of Henry Rollins.
He is also a mighty performer. This is a man who sings like Godzilla giving birth, who stands with his legs miles apart, and who, when he's not bashing his guitar against a mike stand, is reconfiguring his fingers so that he's giving us an up-yours sign or a devil's horns sign. And he still seems cool. As he commented on Tuesday: "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, brothers and sisters and motherfishers everywhere; let us make no motherfishing mistake! This is about the rock, the whole rock and nothing but the rock!"
Actually, Wyndorf is not being entirely honest here. You can tell from the above speech, inspired by the evangelism of the MC5, that Monster Magnet are about more than just rock: Wyndorf definitely owns some records which do not have pictures of large-breasted women chained up by demons on the cover. When he's not commenting in interviews on the effects of rampant capitalism on contemporary America, he's praising Bjork and Burt Bacharach, and his latest album, Powertrip (Polydor), is one of this year's best because it takes in so many influences. From the Voodoo shuffle of "Space Lord" to the Tarantino-worthy surf-flamenco of "19 Witches", Powertrip is a record with a rocket down its trousers, an Elvis sneer on its lips, and a tongue in its cheek.
Sadly, Wyndorf doesn't bother to transfer much of the album's subtlety or range to his live show, but when you're as magnetic as he is, It hardly matters. There's no escaping it. This fisher is as cool as fish.