Twenty-five years plus into his career, Marilyn Manson continues to be an enigma, wrapped tight inside a riddle, not wishing to be fully known. By never making the same album twice with his namesake band, he continues to defy expectations, and be equally loved and hated. While his early albums are masterworks that others from the 1990s would kill to rest their reputations on. However, as the rockstar gains on years and gets further away from his early years, he has transformed into a much more interesting character than when he was freaking out pastors and scarring moms and dads.
There’s an anecdote relating to former Manchester United footballing legend George Best, (who retired aged 27 and once said “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered”) whereby a hotel bell boy found Mr Best in a room with a Miss World, champagne and surrounded by stacks of cash (casino winnings) littering the bed and uttered the infamous words “George, where did it all go wrong?”
At the onset of this (new) millenium Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) (Nothing/Interscope) had Marilyn Manson positioned to complete his unprecedented rise to become the anti-saviour of rock. Hit singles, videos on heavy rotation, ground-breaking and critically acclaimed sell out arena tours with talked about stage shows, movie soundtracks, millions of album sales… he was the biggest and most successful solo rock artist, and poised to stride on steampunk stilts to the head of the rock world on a global scale.
At some point over the last fifteen years of distractions… of liaisons with burlesque super-stars, addictions, depraved and/or pornographic promo vids, drug and alcohol-fueled binges, (alleged) gang-bang parties, where persistently dumbed-down and creatively redundant farces dressed up as albums have seemed inconveniences with which to pay for his way of life … one wonders if there’s been a similar, recent, moment of clarity for Brian Warner that has stirred and inspired ninth album Pale Emperor (Hell, etc/Cooking Vinyl). As a man renowned for a debauched lifestyle, Warner’s reputation as an artist has plummeted significantly to the point that many have turned their back on him. Pale Emperor will have a tough task in getting those who have left the Manson family to return, but is it the album to do it?
Manson knows it is, yet what serves Pale Emperor well is its humility – comprehension and hunger returning to the Manson stable, a realisation that, as a middle-aged man, Warner wants to be a credible artist again, wants to show he can still do this, and do this better than most. Showcasing a stripped down, reimagining of the Manson sound, Pale Emperor achieves those aims. Enter the album expecting a medley of ‘Beautiful People’ or ‘Disposable Teens’ styled anthems and you’ll be left disappointed. Enter it open-minded, and you’ll discover a mature rock album, distinctive yet displaying a new austerity.
Based around Manson’s characteristic drawl and dirty, dirty bass grooves, ‘Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge’ is an undulating new classic to add to the MazMaz canon, while ‘Deep Six’ is the closest to those anthems of old, with a persistent bass snap mixing with garage rock and the trademark snarl, along with nods to classic 70’s Alice Cooper. Elsewhere, a vibe of filthy bass, simple drumming, dark sleaze, intelligent verses and understated choruses pervade. Noticeable by their altered state is how the guitars are used – rather than distorted chords juddering down, predominantly the album is flecked with cleaner tones; hints of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, with strong elements of Americana redolent throughout.
‘The Mephistopholes of Los Angeles’ sees Warner croon “I don’t know if I can open up, I’ve been opened enough” in an autobiographical proto-punk influenced song that inherently suits a man who has always been a great storyteller; ‘Warship My Wreck’ recalls ‘Lamb of God’ (from the aforementioned Holy Wood) in its sparse and starkness; ‘The Devil Beneath My Feet’ is the grandson of Rolling Stones’ classic ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, while ‘Birds of Hell Awaiting’ kicks off with pure bass pornography, before jarring vocals descend the song hell-wards into an Americana swathed discordant grunge lurch.
While Born Villain took baby steps in the right direction and at least established Manson as a draw once again following his global jaunts with Rob Zombie, it was still beige wallpaper compared to the grotesque genius of his first four albums. …Emperor, on the other hand, is comfortably Warner’s best work since Holy Wood. Deserving plaudits in its’ own right, returning from the dead might not be so difficult after all… Indeed, as Manson himself spits on ‘…Mephistopholes…’ “Lazarus’ got no dirt on me, I’ll rise to every occasion”.
Welcome back, Marilyn.