The Pale Emperor
Marilyn Manson - 2015
Back in 1994 when Marilyn Manson was touring in support of his first album, “Portrait Of An American Family”, I was a 17 year old metalhead who was in desperate need of my generation’s shock rocker. Marilyn filled that role perfectly. He was the perfect mixture of cleverness, talent, and ego. I was totally hooked. I saw him at the Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY 3 times within a year and a half. (twice supporting the first album and once supporting the “Smells Like Children” EP) I would faithfully get there early and stand in the front of the club as close to the stage as possible. He would cut himself open with knives a few feet in front of us. He’s ask the crowd to spit on him. He’d stand on that 4 foot high stage, on 2 feet high stilts, and have the crowd chant “I am the god of fuck!” over and over again. As his popularity grew, so did the show, the image, and the concept. “Antichrist Superstar” remains one of my favorite albums of the 90’s. Admittedly it’s partially because of nostalgia, but it’s definitely more than that. It’s a really well crafted concept album from beginning to end, and truly is in the top few Industrial albums of the entire genre. Along with the album, the stage shows grew larger, moving into arenas. The show was a well choreographed spectacle, featuring a number of things that continued to scare the religious right, which of course is exactly what MM was banking on. There is no better advertising to get teenage boys to buy your records than to have their parents say they can’t have them.
I bring up this brief history, because I think for someone like Marilyn, who relies so much on getting more and more extreme, it’s important to realize that it can’t last forever. We all know that there really is nothing scary about a rock show. It’s either Elvis’s hips, Ozzy’s bat head, Alice’s chicken incident, Gangsta Rap, etc. Time always shows us that it was all a show. It’s no different than any other show. Marilyn is a clever guy though, so after Antichrist Superstar, he didn’t continue to try to top himself with the shock rock, but instead turned to glam. Mechanical Animals was an homage to Bowie’s androgynous characters. It’s also my vote for one of the most underrated albums of the 90’s, but that’s for another review. He then spent 3-4 albums being a bit lost stylistically, attempting goth, returning to metal, and whatever "Eat Me, Drink Me” was supposed to be.
While these albums kind of suck, I get it. I’m not 17 anymore and Marilyn isn’t the “The God Of Fuck” anymore. It would be ridiculous to attempt to maintain that image into his 40’s and beyond. (Look, Ozzy made a reality show and Alice plays golf, so they get it too) It’s just too bad that he can’t figure out how to make it work.
So, The Pale Emperor, …..Like I said earlier, he’s a talented guy. He’s knows how to write a song, he understands the whole vibe of the show/image/production, and what gets lost in all of this is that he can actually sing. (you know, for his type of thing) The problem with Manson albums now that he’s not shocking though, is that they need to be packed with great songs. The Pale Emperor has 3 good songs. They’re not all time greats, but they’re worthy of repeated plays. Conveniently these three tracks come lumped together at the 2-4 slots on the album. “Deep Six” is a slick rocker similar to what might have been on 2003’s “The Golden Age Of Grotesque”. “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” is the dark, creepy, mid tempo single, and one of his best tracks in quite some time. (mostly because it’s a bit of a different sound for him) The final one is “The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles”. This track is radio ready, if it were still 1997. That’s not meant as a slam. I just mean that he knows how to write a radio friendly song, but radio is non-existant these days, so it’s not as if it will be played like it would have 20 years ago.
The real gems of the album though come at the end. “What!”, you say. “I thought you said there were only three good songs on this album?” Ah, well yes, you’re correct. Manson throws a bit of a curveball here, so if you got bored by the mediocre filler in the middle of the album and gave up before the end, you missed out. The last two tracks, “Fated, Faithful, Fatal” and “Fall Of The House Of Death”, are actually track #4 “The Mephistopheles Of LA” and track #3 “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” respectively. They’re just alternate acoustic versions. These tracks are the highlight here because at a time when there is no way for Manson to get any more extreme than he became in the late nineties, he throws a big curveball and strips away all of the electric guitars, the doubled vocals, the effects, etc. As I said before, he can actually sing, and these two tracks showcase the dynamics in his voice. It’s not to say that his music doesn’t generally employ plenty of quiet/loud moments, but with the acoustic setting the dynamics are more organic. It sounds like a band actually playing songs together!!!! It’s the vulnerability of this setting that makes it so enjoyable to listen to.
The Pale Emperor is not a great album, it would make a nice EP if it were edited down. While it’s a 3 star album at best, it does show that there is something left in Manson’s tank. Hopefully the sparks that showed up in these few songs are inspiration for future albums.
Posted by Tambe