Wright: Marilyn Manson's new album 'The Pale Emperor' never quits
Just saying the name Marilyn Manson is sure to cause mixed feelings among any group. To many, he is a freak who is still lingering in the shadows of fame after peaking in the late ’90s. For others, he is the artist who created a place for misfits to feel safe in their own skin. Regardless of opinion, Marilyn Manson thrived on controversy in a way that only someone who created his stage name by combining Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson could.
Manson reached his maximum level of fame following the Columbine shooting in 1999. The media obsessed over his hellish stage show and lyrics illustrating drugs, sex and murder, and being portrayed as the Antichrist Superstar he claimed to be. Religious groups would often protest his concerts and raise hell about the hellraiser who threatened to invade their towns and corrupt the youth, much like what was believed to have happened to the Columbine gunmen.
As Manson himself stated, “If you’re an artist, your goal is to affect people, whether that’s in a negative way or a positive way. I think ultimately that is the role of the artist in a society.”
In a pleasingly ironic twist, the protests served as free press and showcased Manson as the prime counterculture icon. It also legitimized his music as a controversial form of art, the opposite of what it was meant to accomplish.
As a young kid, there’s no way to count the hours that my mom and I patiently waited while my brother scoured seemingly endless rows of CDs in the now defunct Sam Goody for Blink-182, Weezer or Green Day CDs. I always nervously dreaded reaching the end of the rock section and waiting in line at the register (buying CDs was actually common back then, believe it or not) because of the nightmarish cover artwork in the metal section that evoked instant terror for the children of the ‘90s. No matter how hard I tried to avoid it, Manson’s alien-like, red-eyed, soul stealing stare on the cover of Mechanical Animals was always there.
My parents, far from overprotective, banned his music from our house, with which my brother and I were fine. Like so much of the world, we dismissed Manson as a one-trick freak hellbent on instilling fear in others.
Upon learning of a new album, I jumped at the chance to review it, not because I am necessarily interested in his music, but because I was curious as to why he was still relevant. Without a decent record during the 2000s, I thought he had finally slipped away into the coffin of irrelevancy.
Within ten minutes of watching past interviews, my perception of Manson completely changed. Manson is as fascinating a person as he is a controversial performer. The first quote that stood out to me was his theory about his existence on Earth: “The Devil obviously has a great sense of humor, so that’s always my biggest inspiration, and if God exists, He obviously has a sense of humor or I wouldn’t be here.”
A well-spoken and incredibly intelligent individual with a knack for dry humor, Manson claims that this is the album when he finally paid the Devil back for granting him the fame he has experienced in his career. Also important, this is the album when he discovered that the blues spawned rock and roll.
The influence of the blues is clear on this album. While elements of heavy metal still make occasional appearances, the majority of the album is a more polished product focused on the sleazy sounding fuzz bass and Manson’s haunting voice.
The Pale Emperor, Manson’s ninth studio album, begins with “Killing Strangers,” led by a fuzz bass riff and slow drumbeat that sounds like a trudge through heavy mud, before opening up into a warning that “You better run because we got guns,” and “We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love.”
Had this song been the one featured in The Matrix instead of “Rock Is Dead,” it is unlikely his career could have been resuscitated, but times have changed, and especially since the popularization of rap, music about murder has become much less controversial.
Next is “Deep Six,” a radio-ready single about the grave that harnesses Manson’s guttural bark as a point of exclamation, rather than the focus of the song. “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” serves as a grinding blues song that he claims ”Will keep a lot of girls through college because if they’re strippers, they’ll really like to dance to this song. It’s not fair to make beats that confuse strippers.”
“The Devil Beneath My Feet” shows Manson aggravatedly talking through his thoughts about God and the Devil. “Don’t need a motherfucker looking down on me/ At least I know, wherever I go I got the Devil beneath my feet.”
The Pale Emperor is a strong album. If I were to tell my younger self, the one cowering from Mechanical Animals, that one day I would publicly praise Marilyn Manson’s music, I would probably have hugged my mom and cried about the hopeless future I had waiting for me. This is one occasion where I am glad to be wrong.
This is an example of “never judge a book by its cover.” His album covers actually scared me away, and in my defiance to be unlike Marilyn Manson, I never took the time to think about what he stands for, or more importantly, why he acts the way he does.
When describing his career, Manson once said, “I hope that this is America’s worst nightmare, ya know, I hope that we can disrupt the regimented lifestyle that people love to set up for themselves. That’s what rock-and-roll was intended to be and that’s what I am and that’s what I’m always going to be and the day that I’m not is the day that I quit.”
He hasn’t quit yet, so he obviously still believes in what he is doing. To date, he has sold approximately 50-million albums worldwide, so his fans haven’t quit on him either. This album is the type that will more likely than not reintroduce old fans to his music, and quite possibly, be the one that converts the skeptics into listeners. At the very least, he deserves the long-awaited respect from non-fans.
Follow Craig Wright on Twitter @wgwcraig