Marilyn Manson | Holy Wood (in the Shadow of the Valley of Death) | Nothing/Interscope 2000

Ex-journalist Marilyn Manson knows that the best thing for a concert tour is the threat of being banned in upcoming cities. The promotional truism that bad publicity is better than no publicity is something Manson has one-upped. For him, bad publicity is good publicity.

Holy Wood is good, hard rock. Harder than Mechanical Animals and cleaner than Antichirst Superstar, Holy Wood bridges the prior works. Thematically, it swallows all that Manson has preached, including, but not limited to: the overweening violence of American culture and Christianity, social alienation and anomie, the commodification of the soul, yada yada yada.

The brute energy in songs like “The Fight Song” and “Disposable Teens” is impressive, and would certainly incite a riot if played to the proper crowd at the proper volume. Holy Wood’s slow tracks have a lyrical bleakness all their own, and certain news headline truths will be disturbing to the casual ear.

Of course, disturbing is what MM is all about, and it looks like he’ll retain his fan base as well his mortal enemies with his latest work. Lastly, in a fight between Marilyn Manson and Eminem, I think Eminem would kick his ass. And then shoot his jaw off. [David Downs]

Rage Against the Machine | Renegades | Epic

Revolutionary rebels, or posers? One of the last real rock groups, or … posers? This may be our last time to pass judgement, because one thing is for sure about Rage Against the Machine: It no longer exist as we know it. Zach De La Rocha has quit the group, and rumor has it that he will be replaced by B-Real from Cypress Hill.

As the last studio album from RATM, Renegades is a tough piece by which to judge the band. It is a collection of remakes from various politically fueled songs. Renegades kicks off by showing the prominent hip hop influence on Rage with Eric B. and Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” and Volume 10’s “Pistol Grip Pump.” Both songs are interpreted very well by the band as De La Rocha combines the vocal stylings of rap and rock to perfection. Other highlights include “Beautiful World,” a rare moment where Zach never explodes on the mic, and “How I Could Just Kill a Man.”

There are bouts of inconsistency, but for the most part this risky venture pays off. You even get a preview of Rage’s future sound as B-Real guests on the bonus live version of “How I Could Just Kill a Man.” Let’s just hope B-Real doesn’t turn the revolutionary message to one of marijuana advocacy. [Trey Clark]

Versus | Hurrah | Merge

In the aftermath of the breakup of Pavement, the indie-rock scene can still claim a few shining stars: Idaho’s Built To Spill, Northwest acquitted date-rapists Modest Mouse and Midwest ego-trippers Guided By Voices. New York veterans Versus hasn’t faded either, despite the notable absence of its posters from dorm room walls. Hurrah is quality aluminized plastic that ensures it will not wither away.

Hot on the heels of its split 7-inch with Unwound, the band has stepped back from the polished songwriting of Two Cents Plus Tax and into the earlier pop-structures-with-noise formula. Granted, the 12 songs on Hurrah tend to be sprawling and less concise than its earlier work, but this is compensated for by Patrick Ramos’ aggressive drumming style. With the exceptions of the nondescript meander in “Play Dead” through Beatlesland and one ill-advised dabble in country nouveau, the songwriting here should be canonical for any aspiring indie-pop musician.

Versus cashes out with “Sayonara,” which incorporates the best bits of later Superchunk with a Pavement-ish vocal melody and the classic soft-loud grunge formula. So here’s a heads-up to all newly hip frosh: You’ve gotten your retro-’60s haircut, you’ve stocked up on black jeans and Mexican wedding shirts; now go pick up Hurrah, sit back and wallow in your cred. [DJ Fatkid]

Xzibit | Restless | Loud

A lot of things have changed over the last year for Xzibit. He has gone from underrated and modestly successful to down-with-Dre superstardom. And, as he mentions on nearly every verse of every song of Restless, he is getting a lot more blow jobs now.

While Xzibit’s past two albums were marked by consistency, Restless has a difficult time stringing decent songs together. The problem may be X’s style, which has been slightly altered to fit Dr. Dre’s production style. He is slightly more thugged out than he used to be, and much more worried about catchy choruses. “U Know,” featuring Dre on the mic rapping about how he never fell off, sounds like a long-lost verse from “Forgot About Dre.” “Kenny Parker Show 2001” is a poorly executed attempt at taking it back to the old school, while “Fuckin’ You Right” is a four-minute bad joke where X explains to his girl that he is only sexing groupies so that he can be better in bed when he gets home.

It’s not all bad, however, as Xzibit has more than enough ability to make a dope song or two. “D.N.A.” is Restless’ best example, as X uses a guest (Snoop Dogg) for more than filler space. The two make a great team, off-setting each other’s styles perfectly. “Alkoholik” and “Sorry I’m Away So Much” are other examples of Xzibit at the top of his game. In terms of a complete album, however, these songs are too little, too late. Warm up that “Skip Track” trigger finger before buying. [Trey Clark]

The Vandals | Oi To The World | Kung Fu

The mentally challenged think harder trying to fetch their handicapped parking stickers from the belly of their glove compartments than The Vandals did putting this album together. Armed with one-and-a-half chords and a whole lot of bad ideas, this “Christmas” album is nothing more than drool and a bowl of shit. Pop punk at its worst, and truly a reason to comb down your mohawk and wear goofy polyester emo guy pants instead. Songs like “Grandpa” come off as a redundant 10-year-old’s journal of angst. Alright already! Do these labels at least require music lessons, or are they just bleaching hair and handing out tab sheets? And why have The Vandals sunk so low? I saw the band back in ’98 when a genre of music called ska was still roaming the Earth, and The Vandals didn’t suck nearly as much. Then again, I was 17 and my voice was even higher and harsher than the lead singer’s, so I probably rationalized my way to enjoyment. [Mohahn G. Mann]

Phoenix | United | Astralwerks

Nowhere else will you find such a truly eclectic mixture of sounds than on Phoenix’s United. Imagine the poppiness of ’70s disco mixed with the edginess of early ’80s rock, and you’ll come close to the sound delivered on this album. It almost seems impossible to meld the musical styles of disco and ’80s punk, but when the album is mixed by Philippe Zdar of Cassius, just about anything is possible. Not only is the album one of the most innovative, you can’t help but smile listening to it; perhaps it’s the slight element of cheesiness (after all, if you are going to sample the sounds of disco, cheesiness is almost impossible to avoid). Leave it to the French to stay one step ahead of the game. [Jill St. John]

The Eternals | The Eternals | DeSoto

“Experimental” is a loaded term. You can whip out your four-track and record modulated fart sounds and breaking glass, and, sure, no one’s done it before, but it’s still fart sounds and broken glass. The Eternals is a band that seeks the crown of experimentalism and, for better or for worse, ends up achieving it.

This band is textbook flatulence-crash and tinkle. Not that its methods are anywhere near as crass, but timbre manipulation is the conceptual crux of its album. Rising from the ashes of Trenchmouth, it continues the former’s tradition of running East Coast post-punk through a dub groove. The Jamaican influences are much heavier this time around with the guitars being relegated mostly to occasional tinkles and pings. The majority of the instrumentation on this album is bass and synthesizer.

The problem with the Eternals is that all of its music is slowed down, and no song clocks in under four minutes. If you’re playing with new approaches toward making music, it’s advisable to keep your songs short while verifying that your approach is viable. So while songs like “Stirring up Weather” or “Feverous” have brilliant moments (the blasts of dissonance in the former, the slow lead up to growling distortion in the latter), you have to sit through lengths of Nation of Ulysses-esque hipster jazz and excruciating abuse of the clavichord tone setting.

Obviously, experimentation has its place. Even abysmal failures are useful inasmuch as they let others know what not to do. But who actually buys this stuff? Artists? Theorists? College students looking for some emblem of intelligence to mount in their CD rack? Someone must, since so much of it gets released every month. [DJ Fatkid isn’t a DJ]