Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MUSIC NEWS.
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.