Review Summary: Marilyn Manson's seventh album is good, with moments approaching greatness, but it's unlikely to blow you away.
Poor Brian Warner; first his wife divorces him, then his friend and band mate Stephen “Madonna Wayne Gacy” Bier deserts him under acrimonious circumstances, and then the album he released that dealt with these emotions, “Eat Me, Drink Me,” garnered middling reviews. On the bright side, he did have a new love in actress Evan Rachel Wood, and midway through touring to support the album, bassist Tim Skold left the band, leaving the spot wide open for former bassist and close friend Twiggy Ramirez to rejoin. Then, in an indication that Manson’s luck is as bleak as his lyrics, he and Wood split up. So what’s a former middle-American nightmare to do?
Evidently, create another album about his feelings.
Let me state this right now: I don’t feel that “The High End of Low” is a bad album by any means. I would say it’s good, with moments approaching greatness. It’s everything I like about Marilyn Manson; the twisted wordplay, the meanings behind songs that hint at something just that little bit deeper, and the musical direction with Ramirez and recent contributor Chris Vrenna at the helm. However, it also contains a fair dose of what I dislike about Marilyn Manson; repetitious themes (Both lyrically and musically) and a maudlin, almost melodramatic approach to describing Manson’s emotional state. “The High End of Low” contains plenty of both.
On a positive note, this is Marilyn Manson like you’ve never heard him before. Musically, this is probably his most diverse album ever. There’s standard Manson fare, such as the stomping, glam-tinged “Arma-Goddamn-Motherf***in’-Geddon” which should bring back memories of previous classics like “Rock is Dead” or “Disposable Teens”. There’s also tracks like “Pretty as a Swastika” and “Blank and White”, which allow Ramirez and Vrenna to go as loud and crazy as they wish, echoing the most chaotic moments of “Antichrist Superstar” at times, such as “1996” or “Little Horn”. Manson also stretches into some completely new musical territory here, as evidenced by the blues-infused “Leave a Scar” or the acoustic “Four Rusted Horses”, which just sounds like it was composed in a wooden rocking chair on a porch during a hot Mississippi afternoon. “We’re From America”, the first song previewed off this album, is also an intense rocker blending Manson’s signature social criticism with a driving rhythm section that speeds the song along in a way that’ll have most listeners banging their heads in time. This may be the all-around best song on the entire disc.
There’s also the divisive “I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies,” which is either the most intriguing track Manson has released in recent memory or one of the most pointless (I belong to the former camp). The extended metaphor of film as lustmord slithers through its nine minutes, at times sounding like stoner rock, other times like doom metal, but throughout it maintains its status as the most menacing and disturbing song Manson has ever touched. Starting out with the empty sounds of a film reel, Ramirez’ innocuous bass licks and drummer Ginger Fish’s subtle yet insistent drumming propel the song forward as Manson himself blurs the line between making a movie and murdering the one you love. Things pick up around the 3:30 mark when the guitars and Manson’s vocals become more distorted and a haunting synth line hangs in the background. It may have been Manson’s image and lyrics that earned him his dubious credit in the 90s as America’s Antichrist, but this track’s atmosphere is more evil than almost anything off of “Antichrist Superstar”.
On the downside, in order to get to this track, you must first slog through the weepy ballad “Running to the Edge of the World,” which is likely to induce unfavorable comparisons with Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” By now, haven’t we heard lines such as “Sometimes hate is not enough to turn this all to ashes” from Manson, but in better form? At 6:26, this song is the second longest on the album, yet it seems to slouch on longer than “I Want to Kill You…,” which is nearly a third longer.
And while I think about it, I can’t be the only one to notice the opening seconds of “Pretty as a Swastika” and their uncanny resemblance to the beginning of Placebo’s “Every You Every Me.” Just an observation.
And other than the aforementioned “We’re From America,” there’s not a lot going on after “I Want to Kill You…” that is of much interest. “WOW” starts out with an interesting drum/handclap/synth beat, but it becomes tiresome with the addition of more tired lyrics that sound like an entry into a spoken word contest and were presented much more cleverly in 1998’s “User Friendly”. “Wight Spider” opens with a veritable wall of guitars, but soon drops into a slow dirge that seems more of a continuation of the musical themes explored in “I Want to Kill You…”. The lyrics take another ridiculous turn with “Unkillable Monster,” which opens with the rhetorical question of “How the f*** are we supposed to know when I'm a monster, the way you refuse to die?” that’s likely the draw more derisive chuckles than commiserating nods.
This is my main problem with this album. I’d long been a fan of Manson’s lyrics when they were vague and nebulous, something that you needed to constantly second-guess yourself on. The lyrical themes on this album really aren’t so different than those found on classic Manson CDs such as “Holy Wood” or “Antichrist Superstar”: Love, loss, alienation and rebellion. The primary difference is that the three CDs that made up Manson’s ‘golden age’ (Pun not intended) were also driven by an overarching storyline that united the three of them with central characters. When Manson sang lyrics such as “Burn all the good things in the Eden eye/We were too dumb to run, too dead to die” from “Coma Black,” they weren’t necessarily better than similar lyrics from “Running to the Edge of the World,” but they carried an extra weight. Was Manson discussing the doomed romance from his Antichrist Superstar trilogy, or was he ruminating on his own relationship with actress Rose McGowan, or was he blending the two in a semi-autobiographical tale? There was just more to think about, and as a result, more to keep you coming back. This album does carry some classic Manson couplets, and at one point gets so incendiary as to earn a bleep even on the uncensored copy of the album (For the line “Let's shoot up the mall, the school/Or the President of whatever or whoever wants to fight” from “Blank and White”), but on the whole, the efforts sound like a third party guessing at Manson’s emotions rather than a genuine portrayal of his loneliness.
When all is said and done, this is a fine album; some great songs, some lackluster offerings. While this may not be remembered quite so fondly as past Manson albums, there’s enough here to recommend it for a few listens, at least. If nothing else, the return of Twiggy Ramirez injects some much-needed fun into Manson’s vision. And really, when all is said and done, doesn’t the All-American Antichrist need a bit of that, too?