Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Grant's Tomb: Marilyn Manson's Born Villian

In this edition of Grant's Tomb, Grant reviews Marilyn Manson's
latest release, Born Villian.
When Marilyn Manson first announced in 2009 that he had been released from his contract with Interscope records, he teased fans by saying “I think people can expect a new record a lot sooner than we [expected].”

A bit of a shocker (no pun intended) that he had first off, left his long time home where one could speculate that it may have been due to lack luster sales of his last album ‘The High End of Low,’ and second that he had already began working on writing for a new record not even a year after his last one had dropped. Maybe the excitement from being released from the confines of major label censorship sparked his creative juices, and Manson indeed echoed these sentiments through numerous interviews between 2009 and now. Before I go any further though, we need to take a step back and reflect on some things here.

In 2003 when he released ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque,’ many of his fans considered it an end of an era. Manson himself intended it to be his farewell album so he could focus on his new foray into painting and art, but something happened to poor Manson. He got divorced, and it spawned a fury in him…that unfortunately didn’t translate so well to his music. In all fairness 2007’s “Eat Me, Drink Me” was a radical departure for the artist who had made his bacon using satanic imagery and criticizing the right-wing witch hunters, and in some respects it was a welcome change. He was just as angry and troubled as before, but instead of just blaspheme and hubris, he took a more controlled stance and the record played out like a maturing Manson was vetting his demons in a more constructive albeit sonically softer way.  If you’ve read my previous entries on this blog you already know my feelings towards his 2009 effort “The High End of Low,” but it is worth mentioning that he trumped this album as a return to form, with the notable inclusion of the return of his long time writing partner Twiggy Ramirez.

Now, in 2012, Manson has returned with his first album, titled “Born Villain,” since the last catastrophe and first released independently of a major label. With statements along the lines of him finding new artistic freedom that Interscope would never have allowed and a curious collaboration with one Shia LaBeouf, people were certainly scratching their heads as to what Marilyn Manson they were going to be hearing on the new record. Would it be the pissed off shock rocker anti-christ his fans grew up loving or would it be the tired Manson we’ve come to know in the last few years. The answer isn’t a simple one, but it certainly is sad.

The album proper starts off with “Hey Cruel World…” with Manson crooning oh so softly into his microphone until the chorus kicks in and he brings it up a notch. What is immediately noticeable is his voice. It quakes and waivers much like an elder Johnny Cash. Clearly the years of alcohol and drug abuse are finally starting to take its toll on his vocals and his inability to hit the high notes he so desperately strives for will leave you cringing, begging for a reprieve. Oddly enough, the music through out most of the disc is extremely reminiscent of his “Mechanical Animals” album that came out over a decade ago. Lead single “No Reflection” leaves something to be desired; it starts with heavy rhythmic breathing that ebbs and flows throughout the track. In press releases, Manson stated that this album would be more “self-abusive” and the lyrics certainly back that up. The third track, “Pistol Whipped,” is easily the most laughable affair on the record (is he doing that heavy breathing thing again? Really?). Even at age 43 he still feels that it is necessary to whisper sweet nothings by way of misogyny.

There’s not much variation here, with the exception of a few songs, Manson and co. seem content with the soft/loud dynamic made famous (and executed much better) by the Foo Fighters. Track six, “The Gardener,” finds Manson channeling his worst post - Black Flag - Henry Rollins with an extremely ridiculous spoken word jam, that on a positive note has the slinkiest bass line this side of “The Dope Show.” One has to seriously wonder if he is running out of ideas here with the entire song seeming like a parody of himself.

Three tracks later on “Disengaged,” he is breathing heavily into the microphone again…maybe this is a concept record about an asthmatic and I just didn’t read the right press release. But wait, there’s more. “Murders Are Getting Prettier Every Day,” sounds like the best Ministry track Al Jorgenson never wrote with horribly canned drums and even includes a ripping guitar solo a la Kerry King (I would say that it was a nice inclusion, but it’s too brief and in reality Tim Skold beat Twiggy to the punch several years earlier). Careful listening to this song in your car, at the beginning of the bridge some very ominous and over done police sirens are thrown in.

The last song that is worth mentioning, although I hesitate, isn’t listed on the actual cd, the last track, a cover a Carly Simons “You’re So Vain” end the album proper. What is notable about this inclusion is that Johnny Depp somehow got suckered into playing guitar and drums on the track. You wouldn’t even really know it unless you read the linear credits, which brings me to my next and last point.

As an avid fan of Marilyn Manson’s earlier work, something that I always looked forward to was the art work. It always felt expansive and added a certain flavor and texture to the music itself, and sometimes was even more controversial than his actual music (see the back side of ‘Antichrist Superstar’). Instead, “Born Villain” is a digipack, that once opened reveals NO artwork, NO lyrics (you have to go to a website), and minimal album credits to boot. Maybe that’s the cost of releasing an album yourself these days, you don’t get all that label money to pump into artwork, or maybe its just a statement on the music industry in general… maybe, just maybe he was aware that most of his fans wouldn’t even bother purchasing the album and instead find a leaked copy off the internet to quell their musical cravings.

Unfortunately, this is a disappointment of an album. If the title of the last (actual) track is any indication of his frame of mind, its safe to say that Marilyn Manson is content to stay “Breaking the Same Old Ground” and refuses to grow up, something that could have easily made up for his more recent releases. Instead, we got a record made by an aging, over weight, heavily medicated, has been.



Anonymous said...

Not a big fan of Marilyn Manson, but a very insightful review. Love thr variety that this page offers. Keep up the good work!