Review Summary: The blues got a hold on him.
The Antichrist superstar had a steep fall in relevancy during his 3-year break in the mid '00s. The Golden Age Of Grotesque
was a commercial success, however, it signaled the end of an era. During the hiatus, Marilyn Manson toned down and softened in some ways, but still tried to maintain his edge. Unfortunately, instead of finding some middle ground to share his thoughts, he delved deep into mourning his failed marriage (in his own morbid and self destructive way) and later fetishized Evan Rachel Wood like a frustrated teenager. He never felt so vulnerable and his issues have drained those albums, especially The High End Of Low
. Nevertheless, he was back on track with Born Villain
, his first independent release after being dropped by Interscope. That album recaptured some of the essence and attitude, even though it was a limp step forward. If that balance had been achieved back in 2007, things could've been different for Manson these days.
Moving on from the troubled times, three years later we get to listen to The Pale Emperor
. There has always been a central theme that tied the songs on each album and judging by the title (taken from Roman emperor Constantius I's nickname), we easily realize he's the pale emperor. Admittedly, the new cuts talk more about his thoughts and personal opinions in a direct manner, rather than using several characters or metaphors to express beliefs. At the same time, topics like his waning popularity and getting older might be reflected in the album's title too. The man has always been very aware of what's going around him and the influence he had at some point, even if he played dumb in the past few years and seemed to be stuck into his own faulty universe. Luckily, he shows signs of maturity in his behavior/lyrics now and this helps create a different atmosphere throughout the entire record.
Musically, The Pale Emperor
focuses mostly on midtempo grooves that are more audibly influenced by blues this time (besides the usual glam and industrial). The heavier elements are at an all time low mostly because even Manson himself must've realized he cannot successfully pull them off anymore. He still soars on 'Deep Six', 'Slave Only Dreams To Be King' and 'The Devil Beneath My Feet' to a lesser extent, yet these punchier cuts have become exceptions rather than standards. Even so, the former follows the band's standard singles formula, but the delivery is the most potent in years. Twiggy has always had a knack for churning dirty, catchy riffs and the guitars shine here. On the latter, the cool bass line mixed with vintage sequencers and chunky leads create a slick track that leaves a lot of room for Manson's coarse croon. Also, 'The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles', with its whining guitar licks and swaying drum beats, lands somewhere in between the two aforementioned tracks. It picks up for the chorus, but for the most part delves into nostalgic territory, much like Eat Me Drink Me
did (that album had some positive aspects so don't just shun this already). There's a certain regret in the lyrics as he recognizes the past is over and he is no longer the fatal, Antichrist superstar. He aimed at such results with his last two records, yet here it feels like he toned his ego down a bit, thus sounding more sincere.
To help with the songwriting, various soundtracks composer, Tyler Bates has been brought in as an active contributor and he manages to offer a cinematic side to the record. Since Twiggy switched back to bass for live performances, it is very probable he let Tyler take over main guitar duties, among other instruments. 'Warship My Wreck' and 'Cupid Carries A Gun' are fine examples of a more layered, atmospheric approach, where various sound scapes, keyboards and piano lines become the main foundation of the tracks. Without aggressive riffs to shove into your face like before, they manage to create haunting melodies by using more subtle elements. The two also took risks and went on the opposite direction, stripping the already less flashy production to its bare bones on 'Killing Strangers' and 'Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge'. Several passages feature solely drums and another instrument, leaving Manson to cover the void. He doesn't take advantage of this aspect though, choosing wisely his words, while also adopting a more mature attitude (less squealing/choking and more cojones). As a result, there are fewer verses or repeated choruses (these were abused on Born Villain
), focusing instead on the vibes created by the instruments.
In the end, The Pale Emperor
turns out to be Marilyn Manson's most enjoyable offering in a decade. Definitely a leap into the right direction, the album is the product of a clear mindset and less ego tripping. Also, finding the suitable contributor helped the creativity boost this time around. There was never room for democracy in this band, but keeping some key members over the years was quite essential for the overall results. With the new, revolving door policy, there have been numerous hits and misses in the past decade. However, Tyler Bates seems like a successful addition and a skillful partner for Twiggy. He always needed someone to write with (John 5, M.W. Gacy or Chris Vrenna to name a few) and once more, it seems he found a suitable one with whom to meld the best ideas. Unfortunately, he might not be around for future recording sessions, so who knows what we'll get next time.