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Hey Cruel World, Are You There? It's Me, Marilyn...Can You Hear Me?
Review of Marilyn Manson's new album, "Born Villain"
When me and certainly when Brian Warner were grasshoppers, villains weren't the sleek suave-ass computer-savvy sociopaths seen in Sin-O-Mah today. They looked far less like Timothy Olyphant and far more like Rasputin (think Svengali). The godfather of 'em all was a serpentine, hunch-backed, schizoid sonofabitch by the name of Silas Barnaby, who skulked around town with a twisted wooden cane and a goatee that looked like it was ripped ripe off Sheitan himself. Barnaby was the bastard creation of Glen MacDonough and Victor Herbert, who cast him in their bizarro world operetta Babes in Toyland, a play that bears little resemblance to the ’80s Keanu Reeves MOW that most of my culturally-bankrupt generation has grown up on.
In the operetta, and the subsequent Laurel & Hardy film adaptation (see: March of the Wooden Soldiers), Silas Barnaby was portrayed (by the sinfully unsung character actor Henry Brandon) as a curmudgeonly real estate tycoon and wannabe haberdasher (dig that gigantic gaudy buckle on his black top hat...shades of "dope hat?” hmm...) who seizes the elderly Mother Hubbard's shoe-shaped cottage when she fails to make her mortgage premium. Silas wants to turn her out on her geriatric ear, but he offers a reprieve in return for her goddaughter (that tawny-haired tart Bo Peep)'s hand in marriage. When things don't go his way, and his efforts to satiate his perverted desires are thwarted by Bo Peep, her lover Tom-Tom, and a duo of dimwits named Ollie Dee and Stanley Dum, Silas unleashes hirsute zombie simians he calls his "bogeymen” on the townsfolk.
Now here's where the grotesque comedy enters into it. Throughout the entire affair, Silas presents himself as the helpless foil of his own affections, a basically well-meaning man who lashes out only because everyone's out to get him and deny him his just satisfaction(s).
Naturally I can't say, with any authority, whether Marilyn Manson grew up watching Babes In Toyland, a.k.a. March of the Wooden Soldiers, any more than I could say that he grew up on anything at all, being that Marilyn Manson wasn't so much born as weaned into Existence on the usual suspects (childhood bullying, societal repression, dogmatic imperialism, drug abuse, et al.). But I'm fairly sure that Brian Warner (the worm to Marilyn Manson's black butterfly) must've caught this one at least once. Especially since, during the early Portrait of an American Family/Smells Like Children period, Manson regularly shared with rock journalists his boyhood affinity for movie villains (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, etc.).
But even if he never saw Babes in Toyland, a stark parallel still emerges—that Marilyn Manson, in his myriad musical grapplings with the whole Id/Ego/Superego/Death-of-Ego trip, has synthesized the very essence of Silas Barnaby, love's foil and the villagers' (society's) eternal effigy, into a catch-all stage persona.
In lyrics like, "I'm weak, seven days I'm weak,” and, "I don't know which me that I love/I've got no reflection,” everyone's favorite Antichrist is back at his narcissistic and sociopathic best, bleeding clouds of clotted mid-life identity crises for all that will humor him in 2012. Which may not be many but will, doubtlessly, be enough to carry this, his first album on the relatively small U.K. record label Cooking Vinyl (to whom Manson's own Hell, Etc. label has licensed exclusive rights to this post-Interscope outing).
Barnaby may be dead, but Manson is alive and pallid/livid as ever, tearing up the power strip with joint after joint of gloomy mellifluity.
Now, most of the naysayers are crowing, "Been there, done that, so what?” All I gotsta say to them is, "Steven Tyler.” Sure, Manson's not breaking any new ground with this latest go-round, but unlike his peers in hard rock, he's got no illusions about it. Witness the final track's title or the lyrics therein, "And then I found how to be what you want/when I was out looking for something new.”
Shit, he's even compared the album to Mechanical Animals (thereby guaranteeing that the Antichrist Superstar/Holy Wood crowd will stay away almost en masse), even though virtually every track errs closer to The High End of Low or the aforesaid H'Wood. And he didn't have to take a paycheck to join a jury of American Imbeciles to make himself relevant. In this near-Rapturous era of Recession, the Age of Oxycontin & Craigslist Killer(s), Manson is as relevant as anything in the annals of metal's many-tentacled upchucks of angsty sputum.
And he did it all like Sinatra and Sid Vicious said, his way, without pandering to the trendy a la Deftones' last and shittiest!
Maybe you're tired of the slippery id and the cantankerous ego? Well, that's awright, friend. So is Marilyn, as evidenced by the tongue-in-cheek unlisted bonus cover of "You're So Vain.” Here's a Manson the world hasn't seen before, the facetious gonzo moralist who has kept the company of such known fun hogs as Hunter Thompson and Eminem. And this Manson knows how funny it is for a forty-something metal-meister to be belly-aching about being betrothed to agony and personality disorder.
It's hard to conceive of a kick-ass cover tune that could best Manson's own much-used-for-the-movies "Sweet Dreams,” "Tainted Love,” and "I Put A Spell On You,” but "You're So Vain” rises to the challenge and the Double M produced yet another potent raven paragon raver. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Johnny Depp (formerly of The Kids, Gibby Haynes, and Sweeney Todd fame, not to mention being Keith Richards' adoptive son) as your session drummer-slash-guitarist.
In my review of Manson's last LP, I said, "Marilyn Manson is always best when he is permitted, either by producer or by self, to play with sounds or material he hasn't previously explored.” And while I still believe that to be the truth where my personal tastes are concerned, it would seem I missed the boat completely overall. As Born Villain has illustrated all too aggressively, Manson is really on point when he's in comfortable territory, wrangling wicked wordplay, twisting literary quips and hurling them at illiterate headbangers, and pogo-sticking around like a Whirling Dervish in fits of gravely outbursts awash in goth upheaval. But the reason this same-old-same-old formulaic emo-noir works so well for him is his craftsmanship, both as a composer and a lyricist.
The keen listener will recognize, in tracks like "Pistol Whipped” and "Hey Cruel World,” the Harlequin of Hell shenanigans that harken back through "Heart-Shaped Glasses” to the Hierophant of "'Antichrist.” But the sounds themselves, touches of post-Skold synth nightscapes cascaded in tinges of "Tourniquet,” couldn't be more disparate when held up to his back catalog. Indeed, much of what we have here is closer to latter day Motels/Martha Davis than the MM of old. I could very easily imagine a soundtrack of sorrow and decadent (s)wallowing sliding "Overneath The Path of Misery” or "Hey Cruel World” in betwixt The Motels' "Art Fails” and "Mission of Mercy.” In fact, I'd pay at least the $13.99 (plus tax) I paid for this here now-obsolete compact disc (that round thing with the hole in the center, not to be confused with your rotund GFF) to see a Manson/Motels double-bill.
Those self-same shitters who say, "Why more Manson? Isn't he over yet?” are no doubt braying about how Born Villain is just another attempt at maintaining a dwindling brand a la Alice Cooper or Rob Zombie's non-filmic endeavors, but they would fail to note two very substantial facts: 1) Born Villain is actually stronger in material and execution than damn near anything Zombie or Cooper ever cavorted around with; and 2) Manson doesn't need the money or the brand-establishment since he is, and has been for some time, a well-received and lucrative watercolor canvas artist with work in galleries here and abroad.
Elsewhere in that ole "High End” review I wrote, "What Manson has proven, with each passing album, is that there is much more to his complex self than the caked-on persona of in-your-face risque grotesquerie. Here is a brilliant and tortured man who hates you all almost as much as he hates himself. But he hates because he's sick of the love he can't help but harbor. It's the classic battle of the human contradiction, of the vulnerable and defensive soul in tailspin.” This is all true here as it was there, but what we get this time is something far more exalting and interesting than that last genre-bending filler-saturated funk. What we get is a massive beyond-threshold injection of Manson's pristine Poe-tic philosophizing.
Witness "The Gardener,” in which he rhapsodizes about that nagging nugget we call amore and the social awkwardness that contributes to its manifestations and machinations in a way that perfectly embodies what the Facebook generation has to look forward to as they turn 30 or even 40.
I’m not man enough to be human
but I’m trying to fit in
and I’m learning to fake it
Don’t ever meet their friends
It tells you too much
or not enough
exactly the wrong thing
the way she laughs
these are all the things you either obsessively fetishise
or make yourself grow to love
although you are supposed to be done growing
she is still growing
This is probably the greatest straightforward song Manson has ever produced, second only to his self-effacing heroin-and-cocaine anti-anthems "Spade” and "Coma White.” The watery discharge of robotic incantations accent Marilyn's aqua lung nasal-numb vox consummately as he moans, "You never wanted/to share/your concept of your creation/with any other gods or worshippers/your book isn't burned/it was never written.”
It's on joints like this jangly jetsam jamboree - and the melodic pick-up of "Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms” - that we get the whimsical and lucid Manson who reveals himself to be wiser and more talented than the genre of rock he works within, where we get to meet and hang out with, even if for only four-and-a-half minutes, the Manson who needs no gloom-and-doom thrash guitar bukkake to make him bad ass, just a swift segue from manically upbeat keyboards into that vacuum of fluid reflective dreariness. This is driving music for the intellectual hyper-sentient hopeless romantic and Manson, I suspect, knows as much, which is why he takes care to supply a gently sullen bridge to guide us with atypical delicacy.
If Born Villain is, as Manson has put it (in admittedly pompous fashion), the most solid work "the band” (he and co-conspirator Twiggy Ramirez) has ever recorded - and I'm not saying that it is or it isn't (time will tell) - the reason is that Marilyn has come correct without masquerading his pain in concept album characters or concealing his true feelings in a hell broth of double-entendres. If nothing else, Villain's fourteen numbers are naked dips down Manson's personal rabbit hole, sans the Frumious Bandersnatches of overly-elaborate syntax and sleights of hand that've comprised virtually everything else in his past canon. Here, even more than with The Golden Age of Grotesque, MM writes as himself. No filters, filler, or fiction. Unless you count his latter-day Carl Dreyer fixation.
Like all shock rockers, Marilyn Manson is hardly shocking in a day and age when real-life chainsaw executions can be seen by eight-year-olds on the World Wide Web, and where virtually nobody sends their children out trick-or-treating anymore for fear that their rectums will need stitches and their stomachs will need pumping.
It's the apex of Absurdism and grotesquerie, as Manson so adeptly prophesied on his sophomore LP way back when the Columbine kiddies were the only real (or imagined) threat to suburban repose. And we all scoffed at him back then, thinking him a dimestore George Orwell, a heinous huckster, even while we threw the chastity belts on our teenage daughters and hid the razor blades in the toilet tank.
So now what? Now, it's the "flowers of evil,” that's what, brother. And lemme tell ya, they're blossoming.
Manson calls 'em the "children of Cain,” but they're really kinder von karma, the children of an inherited viciousness that are bound to have moral/spiritual implications, God or no. Yea, America (and the world) is heading for something serious, only this time the so-called nihilistic enfant terrible is urging us to "disengage.” Call it Marilyn's maturity, if you don't wanna call it musical maturity.
It's weird to wake up and realize that Marilyn Manson is no longer scary to mainstream society. I mean, the man is interviewed by the H'wood media about HBO sitcoms, for cripessake! What that says about polite civilization I don't know (and I don't think I want to know—call it the Huxley/Soma cop-out), but one thing is sterling—the "born villain” isn't Brian Warner, it's the sicko (former) fan(t)s that turned their backs on him and the far more persuasive powers-that-be that once condemned his ilk. They own the House now and flies (and crows) are circling, laying in wait for the New World Order that is imminent.
As always, Marilyn Manson is here to herald that particular (cultural) apocalypse and I, for one, take a semblance of comfort from that.