Nearly a quarter-century into his career, Marilyn Manson continues to explore the grimy underside of humanity that makes other artists shy away to safety, and enthralls his fans. This is not an easy task and while his missteps have been very public, it would take a very jaded listener to find fault with the recorded consistency he has put down, especially of late. I’m not sure why 2015s The Pale Emperor (Hell, etc) took so many off guard; as if the man wasn’t capable of holding our attention any longer. That album exuded a mature brilliance; an almost “an elder statesman of rock” type of vibe. A modern classic rock album, the type we used to get often, but are now scarce since real rock gods are dead or in hiding. Manson is not ashamed to swing his sticky rock star dick around, but it’s his writing, lyrics and vocal delivery that really sent that album over the top. In some ways he has actually done one better on the follow-up, Heaven Upside Down (Loma Vista/Caroline International).
For all the restraint, and cultured aggression the previous album had and let out in bursts, Heaven Upside Down is a let your hair down and dance while the bombs go off- Manson tour de force. His mind open to possibilities, his mouth venomous, practically hissing out the words at times. This is the Manson most fans fell in love with: brilliant and pissed the fuck off. Still, there are elements from the last album that have remained in sort of a Bowie/Beatles anthemic rock way that can be said to be collaborator Tyler Bates’s lasting influence on Manson after two releases. Apparently, when the album didn’t drop as originally promised on Valentine’s Day this year, it was because Manson and Bates went back to the drawing board to write more songs, and these songs became the compass the rest of the album congealed around. Right in the sweet spot musically between rock and traces of industrial, glam and metal filtered in the writing. Lyrically, Manson has never been more in the moment too, a real treat for those glad he has more to say about how sick we are as a race of beings.
Opening up with the absolutely ripping ‘Revolution #12’ the roadmap for the album’s major theme, the state of the world and how lost we all are is made quite apparent. Typically any song with counting in the lyrics it is at a disadvantage to me, but in this case, he makes it work. The fierce beat and riff mash-up are propulsive as anything Manson has done in years.
Second track ‘Tattooed In Reverse’ has all those big Bates rock chops we spoke of. Full of sexy swagger, and vocally where Manson lives and breathes. ‘We Know Where You Fucking Live’ should have come with a warning label. If you have missed the first few albums of unmistakable, dangerous MM tracks full of threats and fire; this is your jam. It definitely was a shot fired across the bow of boring bands/labels/people/politicians/trolls today.
‘SAY 10’, the original title track, has the straight-up swinging Mechanical Animals vibe. I can’t wait to see the crowds at a festival or concert chanting “you say God, I say Satan” from ‘SAY 10’ at the top of their lungs. Definitely a fun track, but not a clever as it likely was first 1000 times we heard it. Next, the recent single ‘KILL4ME’ is another swaying, danceable song. This the kind of tune you can imagine could work as any arrangement: industrial, heavy metal, glam etc, but is its best self this way. Well-written and catchy as hell.
The finest track on the album and one of the ones that came about from the final writing sesh, ‘Saturnalia’ is just otherworldly. Slick electronics bubble under the thick bass lines, and sinewy guitar work. Lyrically it is one of the more giant moments in music in 2017, up there with the finest in his career.
After the opener, and the previous track ‘JE$U$ CRI$I$’ may be the song this album is remembered for. Real talk about excess and the stress of the ego, boiling it down to the darkness like only Manson can. With great sing-a-long lyrics about debauchery and lack of self-control, this is another track made for concerts.
‘Blood Honey’, is a slow almost doom metal track, except for the 80s synth parts. Definitely not a throwaway. The title track is anthemic in that Manson doesn’t always have to scream to get his point across. His dusky baritone has never sounded more creepy or sincere. Channeling Bowie at his best, it shares a cautionary of tale about where we are heading as a society. It does flourish into a driving beat and riff-laden affair.
Final track ‘Threats of Violence’ is a spiritual companion to ‘Pale Emperor’, with bluesy piano, interesting modal shifts, and a torch song type of vibe. A great way to punctuate this album full of high highs. It may not be as complete top to bottom as the last one, but no one should question if Manson is vital in 2017 or not.