Monthly Archives: January 2015

Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

© Cooking Vinyl

© Cooking Vinyl

At their peak, the band known as Marilyn Manson managed to whip the Western World into a frenzy. Their deny-nothing policy, complex concept-album mythology and live shows that set out to shock as much as they entertained all fused together to create utter pandemonium. There were many who believed Marilyn Manson were a real threat to American youth, and the band topped the charts as a result.
Such heady heights couldn’t last, and the ground was effectively disbanded in 2004. The titular frontman went solo: a revolving door of live musicians and recording collaborators helped him reinvent the name, Alice Cooper style.

Except, like Alice, Manson’s well documented alcoholism and seemingly ad-hoc approach to recording led to a string of further ‘Marilyn Manson’ albums which divided audiences, polarised critics, and in the case of the last one, Born Villain, could be downright impenetrable. Over a decade since his last true hit record, and it’d be easy to see Manson as a lost soul, desperate to cling on to past glories.

Not so. “The past is over”, he sings on new track The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles, “Now the passive seems so pathetic.” Realising his raw power is a strength, rather than a weakness, in The Pale Emperor he’s created an album almost entirely devoid of production sparkles, and the result is quite unlike anything he’s done before.

Whilst Born Villain had wrapped warped vocals around prolonged, murky dirge metal, and The High End Of Low stuck a little too close to the classics for comfort, The Pale Emperor manages to stride the gap between them.

There’s a blues swagger to much of the album, and the clinical production lets the music simply be, while Manson’s raw, raucous and often strained vocals lie on top: the sound of a torn and broken man fighting back.

There are hark backs to the Manson of old, still – a familiar drum pattern here, a guitar lick there… even the warbling gutter noises that he’s been using on and off for two decades are still knocking around. His childish sense of humour still comes to the fore in playground chantalong choruses that only Manson could write.

But every time a track like Third Day of a Seven Day Binge hark back to songs like Leave A Scar, or Cupid Carries A Gun manages to sound like just about every classic-era Manson track you can think of, there’s a new direction to go in. The song twists and turns, the album shifts mood, and the result is the most unique sounding Manson record yet.

It’s possible that Manson’s new mantra is repeatedly made explicit on Warship My Wreck: “You cannot say I’m breaking the rules/If I glue them back together.” That feels like The Pale Emperor in a nutshell: harking back to the old, doffing its top hat to the new, and ploughing its own, rougher path down the middle, hopping back and forth as it pleases. Even if the end result is unlikely to win over any new converts, it’d be hard to deny Manson points for effort on that front.

If there’s one major negative, it’s that the Manson of old wrapped intricate tales and obscure quotes around poptastic beats, and that side of him feels increasingly consigned to musical history as he takes a more autobiographical and somewhat simpler path. But to try and enforce a style on an artist is preposterous: Manson has moved on, and this time, he’s inviting us to go with him.

Time will tell if it’s too little too late for Manson, and there’s a slightly disturbing undercurrent across the record of a man on borrowed time and an apparent death wish. In the end, however, The Pale Emperor may just signify a new age for The God of F**k himself.

The Pale Emperor is released on January 19th 2015 in standard and deluxe formats.


Onion Talking: Adam Kay on Crims

© Adam Kay

© Adam Kay

This week sees the launch of Crims – BBC Three’s new sitcom starring Elis James & Kadiff Kirwan.

We sat down with one of its co-writers: cult stand-up and former Mongrels writer Adam Kayto discuss the gestation of the series, and his plans for its future.

Imagine the scene. You go to pick up your girlfriend’s brother, only to find he’s committed a bank robbery, and you’re now his getaway driver.  More accurately, considering your stationary and surrounded by armed police, his getting-caught driver.

Such is the plight of Luke (Elis James), whose situation is made all the worse when he is confined to a Young Offenders Institution for 600 days, sharing a cell with said girlfriend’s brother – the hapless Jason (Kadiff Kirwan).  The result is Crims, BBC Three’s brand new sitcom from the pens of Adam Kay and Dan Swimer.

“It’s a huge privilege to be trusted to write a few hours of comedy on telly,” Adam tells TVO following a sneaky peak at the first two episodes, “and everyone worked very hard to make the best product we could.  Though, the progression of a comedy writer is to write on sketch shows, write episodes of other people’s shows, script edit other people’s shows, then work towards someone trusting you to write your own rulebook. So if it’s not funny, I can’t say it’s because I was told a character couldn’t say that. It’s because I fucked up. I can blame every other show I’ve worked on for not being funny on other people.” He pauses for a moment and ruminates. “I guess I could still blame the actors on this one.”

Kay needn’t worry. Crims is hysterically funny. Set in a world slightly detached from reality, it features prison guards who are obsessed with urinal cakes, gang leaders with an allegiance to Team Edward, and regular discussions about wanking rotas.  One character goes by the name of ‘Black Elton John’, for no apparent reason than his need of spectacles. It’s that kind of show, and TVO loves every second of it.

© BBC / Adam Lawrence

© BBC / Adam Lawrence

“The show found its feet as we were writing it,” explains Adam. “It didn’t feel out of place in the world to chuck that sort of weird stuff in. You never want to break the world with something outlandish. When people suddenly take stock and realise they’re just watching telly, it’s never good. But we peppered these crazy moments in without making it seem mad.  The temperament of the show allowed us to throw in those moments.”

Every character has something inherently likeable about them – even those who would typically be portrayed as purely negative stereotypes. For Kay, this was a natural decision to make. “You’re inviting people into your living room,” he states, “and the characters are not the most hyper-real on television. We’ve tried to give everyone enough fallibility and relatability to be enjoyable. There’s no real villains. It has to be more complex than setting up a goodie and a baddie, because no-one is really like that in real life.”

It also helps to set the series apart from the shows it will inevitably be compared to. Whilst no-one bats an eyelid at sitcoms set in shops or offices, you only have to look at the way Hyperdrive was dismissed before it even aired as a Red Dwarf knock-off to suspect that Crims will be unfavourably compared to Porridge by some, much as Dead Boss was before it.  Thankfully, Adam isn’t worried.

“I’m happy for anything I do to be compared to anything else,” he asserts. “Porridge casts a very long shadow, and rightly so. But in general, it’s less helpful thinking of a show in terms of the precinct it’s based in. A show is essentially the characters that are part of the world. We’d come up with the characters of Luke and Jason, and their relationship, before we came up with the situation they would be in.  I don’t feel constrained by it. I would happily write a sitcom set in a hotel. We could have set this in a retail bank, and it could have had the same vibe. But as soon as we plonked them in a prison, everything slotted into place.”

© BBC / Robert Viglasky

© BBC / Robert Viglasky

Part of what makes Crims stand apart from most recent comedy shows, is that it all seems to be coming from relatively new blood. Kay has spent years as a musical comedian, regularly selling out at the Edinburgh Fringe, and you may have heard his viral favourite London Underground. His first major television writing gig was crafting songs for the second series of Mongrels back in 2011. Co-writer Dan Swimer cut his teeth co-writing Grandma’s House with Simon Amstell, and has also written for shows as diverse as How TV Ruined Your Life and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Despite their talents, neither man could really be defined as a household name just yet.

This vibe extends to the cast, too. Elis James is an up-and-coming stand-up with occasional sitcom acting credits to his name, with much of the rest of the cast made up of relative unknowns. Comedian and actress Cariad Lloyd (Cardinal Burns, Fit) plays Prisoner Officer Dawn, the only sane voice in the whole place. Former Dead Boss and Him & Her star Ricky Champ plays fellow warden and hapless idiot Creg. By far the more diverse CV on the cast-list is that of Theo Barklem-Biggs, who plays Twilight-loving thug Marcel – and who you may recognise from his appearances in productions as varied as The Inbetweeners Movie, Silk, Moses Jones, A Touch of Cloth or The Fades.

“We were certainly never put under any pressure to fill it with names,” Adam states. “Everyone just set about making the best possible show.  Cariad is brilliant. Ricky Champ’s been in a huge amount before and he’s always brilliant, likewise Theo. And there are some who’ve done smaller roles or we’re bringing them to the screen for the very first time. It’s exciting.”

This certainly isn’t your typical BBC Three starring-vehicle, though it could have ended up very different indeed.

 © BBC / Robert Viglasky

© BBC / Robert Viglasky

“Lots of people were seen for the show,” reveals Adam, “Some with large amounts of profile, some with even less profile than these guys. The casting director put huge numbers of people up for it. But not only are Elis and Kadiff individually really great actors, but we knew their chemistry would show on screen from the moment we tried them together.  Ellis has been gaining profile of late, but I think this is the start of a long comedy journey for Kadiff in particular.”

One familiar face does turn up in Episode Two, however – in the form of Doctor Who legend Sylvester McCoy. As Luke tries to impress his girlfriend by getting an A-Level on the inside, he meets a daffy old Latin teacher, and the two bond over the true meaning of life, the universe and everything, with delightfully charming results.  Which, given Sylvester’s track record for delightfully charming everyone around him, is no surprise.

 © BBC / Robert Viglasky

© BBC / Robert Viglasky

“I can tell you now,” Adam beams, “he was an absolute joy. Sylvester was a huge presence and source of energy and enthusiasm. We had a puppy on set that day, and normally the puppy gets all the attention on a set, but Sylvester stole its limelight very much, which is pretty unheard of.  He does it really well, too. It’s a very unusual part, and he gets away with it with just the right amount of mad.”

So what does the future hold for Crims? “At the start of every episode,” Adam tells us, “is the number of days they’ve spent in the prison. By the end of Episode Six we’re a couple of months in. If time continues at the same rate, we’re not going to be limited by their sentence. We’d rather keep doing it while we’re all enthusiastic about it enough to want to write more. You know how comedy works. If we were commissioned for Series Eleven, and we wanted to do it, we’d find a way.”

But is there a moment in this first series Adam is most proud of? He has two.  “Episode Six,” he grins, “where Creg is eating a sandwich. That’s a plot construction I was extremely pleased with.  And there’s one thing that Luke says, as a very sarcastic character. In a moment of annoyance to Jason, he asks: “Isn’t there a yourself you can go fuck?” I’m waiting for a chance to say that in real life.”

TVO suggests the slogan could end up on t-shirts. “You’re in,” Adam retorts. “You get 10%.” Deal.

Crims airs from 10pm on Thursday 8th January on BBC Three.