A few words on Marilyn Manson’s “The Pale Emperor”

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”

I have a distinct memory, in 2007, of downloading the lead single from Marilyn Manson’s ’07 album “Eat Me Drink Me,” called “Heart-Shaped Glasses.” I downloaded it, and realized that I was a seventeen year old grabbing a song from someone who relevancy had left behind years ago. I don’t know what I did next, but the realization of adulthood crept in so I probably bought a checkbook or scheduled a doctor’s appointment by myself or something. It’s now eight years later, and Manson’s name has been written into the history books as a somewhat flash-in-the-pan shock-rocker from the 90’s. But it’s time to make that edit.

I wasn’t planning on reviewing this album. I didn’t even know if I’d listen to it. I keep a running tab on new albums throughout the year and listen to whatever I can – Dylan’s covers album isn’t on Spotify, and Mark Ronson wasn’t tickling my fancy today, so I just threw on “The Pale Emperor,” remembering it had been getting more press than his previous few albums. I don’t know the last time I listened to a Manson album in full; I’m not positive I ever have. But I’m glad I did, because I’m finally getting the Marilyn Manson I’ve always wanted to hear – the real Marilyn Manson, the real Brian Warner.

My problem with Manson was that it never seemed real – he wore weird make-up, but so did Alice Cooper. He sang about hating people and culture, but so did everyone else. He sang about sadistic things, but so did Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. And when school shooters started admitting their love for Manson, he was forced to break facade and tell people not to do that. His music was meant to shock, but it was way, way too melodic. Whistle “The Beautiful People” to yourself right now. I bet you can. The Dead Kennedys were more violent and sloppier, and you can’t say that Manson would strike any nerves musically that Nine Inch Nails or, hell, Merzbow hadn’t already.

Manson fell into irrelevancy, once we all accepted his existence and decided to turn him into the butt of jokes instead of the envelope-pushing musician he was trying to be. And although the band has been releasing albums this whole time, “The Pale Emperor” is the first time we’ve seen Manson as a musician. The album doesn’t always turn the volume up; it’s poetic, melodic and, at points, bluesy. It’s even occasionally a little fun, even in it’s darkness. These feel like the songs that Warner – not Manson – has been sitting on for some time, waiting for a time to record. Maybe he waited too long, but they’re a welcome change for someone who had outplayed himself and his band.

Manson sounds like he’s actually having a good time on this record, and it’s a fun we can all engage in. It’s not all great, and it’s not overly memorable, but it’s a side of the band we’ve never seen before. Song titles like “Slave Only Dreams to Be King,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting” and “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” sound like typical Manson, but they’re not – because he’s not aiming for radio anymore. Manson – and the band – have finally hit the point where they don’t have to fight for hits any longer. People are either in it for the long haul, or they’re not.

I was never onboard the Manson train, I was a little too young, but this album excited me. I’ve always seen the band’s problems being the forefront of their music and their actual music on the backburner, and that’s finally switching. I titled this review “A few words on Marilyn Manson’s “The Pale Emperor”” because I wanted to talk more about his legacy than the album itself (and because I didn’t expect to go on this long); I’m not that familiar with his discography and how different this album really is. But it is a breath of fresh air from a musician who is finally able to be comfortable with himself. No forcing, no goals, and only the theatrics he wants – “The Pale Emperor” is still a dark, heavy album, but it’s finally one by Manson’s standards, not one by society’s.

-By Andrew McNally

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