Cultural icons come in all shapes and sizes, changing the sector of life they inhabit for everybody who ever interacts with them. We have Marilyn Monroe, the beautiful starlet that lit screens ablaze, and we have Charles Manson, the cult leader that shocked the world with gruesome violence. In between the two, Marilyn Manson sprung forth to rock the music world to its core, offending parents, religious leaders and just about everyone else throughout his expansive career. However, being shocking in the 90s and still trying to elicit a reaction almost two decades later is an uphill battle, one that Manson lose with his last two lackluster albums.
That’s why the release of Born Villain snuck up on me, because I had almost disregarded Manson as a current artist, worrying that since he couldn’t shock audiences anymore he had lost his appeal. But as the release approached, a few realizations hit home that gave me hope. When Manson was at his peak, his music was genuinely fantastic. The metal-tinged Holy Wood and glam-rock counterpart Mechanical Animals are still mainstays on my iPod, and every listen filled me with just a little more faith that Manson couldn’t be completely done. Ladies and gentlemen, never in my life have I been happier to admit that I’m wrong: Born Villain is truly the return of Marilyn Manson, marking his first quality album in almost a decade and revitalizing a career that was dangerously close to its end.
Even on the first track, it’s apparent that Manson has returned with an energy that has been lacking in years past. Hey, Cruel World… features Manson’s trademark wailing backed up by Twiggy‘s trademark guitar and bass lines that can only be described as drop dead sexy. Hearkening back to the vampire-tinged Eat Me, Drink Me, lead single No Reflection crawls out of the darkest sludge, strutting with a swagger that exudes glam-fueled sexual energy. As Manson croaks lines like, “You don’t even/Want to know what I’m gonna do to you,” while the music builds to a mechanical climax behind him, fans won’t be able to stop themselves from singing along.
Pistol Whipped returns to the sexually violent Manson we all know and fear, continuing to use synthesized drum sounds while Twiggy does work on the axe. The simple chorus is ridiculously catchy (“You’re just a pistol/And I’m f***in’ pistol whipped,”) and proves that Manson doesn’t have to write profound protest songs to strike a chord. But when he lets his creative side take over, tracks such as Overneath The Path Of Misery are born. Perhaps the best aspect of Manson’s return to relevancy is the fact that his lyrics are once again more focused and deliciously dark, eschewing songs about Armageddon and vampires in favor of Shakespearean allegories. Manson even goes so far as to quote Shakespeare at the beginning of the track, and what could have become a pretentious, showy song instead becomes one of the most enjoyable on the album.
Although the music slows down a bit for Slo-Mo-Tion, Manson delivers on the vocal end, croaking and roaring his way through the verses with a swanky vocal harmony. He continues to use his pipes to great effect in The Gardener, swaying between speaking and crooning as naturally as he has for the past two decades. Twiggy‘s bass takes the forefront here, and as proven before, Manson is at his best when it’s just the deep thrumming of the bass and his voice carrying the load.
The gardening theme carries over to The Flowers Of Evil, as does the musicality, with bass and Manson up front yet again. As with every other song on Born Villain, the production values featured here are exceptional. Everything sounds exactly as it should, and there’s no muddled sound or even a speck of wrongdoing to be found on the studio’s end. Credit should be given to everybody behind the boards for their work here, as the production is flawless.
Leading into the second half of the album, Children of Cain and Disengaged hit harder than the previous tracks, giving Manson the chance to unleash his caustic screams, while letting Twiggy flex his muscle behind the guitar. However, possibly the best and heaviest track on the album is Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms. Not only is it the most ear-catching song on the album, it is probably one of the best songs that Marilyn Manson has written throughout his career. Featuring a chorus that rips through the musical madness behind it (“Wanna fight?/Wanna f**k?/Wanna die?/Try your luck,”) the only other track that can compare to it on the album is Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day. This one-two punch of heavy tracks bring back fond memories of Holy Wood and Antichrist Superstar, when Manson and his group would just let loose and play straight ahead rock n’ roll with no apologies. The combined eight minutes of chaos will leave listeners breathless.
Nearing the end of the record, the title track is an oddly composed masterpiece, fleeting back and forth between blues riffs, heavy hitting interludes and dark, unsettling vocals. The satisfaction fans will feel while listening to the penultimate track is more than worth the price of the album.
Finally, closer Breaking The Same Old Ground is an emotional, pensive track that finds Manson at his most vulnerable as he wails, “So you think that I asked for this?” After hearing years of Manson singing about protesting, made up people and reckless abandon, it’s ironic that the major shock on this album is found in the emotional appeal in this song.
Coming from a celebrity that was on the verge of being considered washed up, Born Villain is just the album that Marilyn Manson needed to release. It’s much harder to shock audiences in a time when we have reddit and 4chan, but Manson gets the job done simply by releasing a quality piece of work. Not only does he get his name back on the map, he also manages to step up his game with a batch of some of the best songs he’s written in his career. Nobody should sound this good eight albums into their career, but Manson proves that he’s got a shelf life longer than the four years it takes to get out of high school. The only complaint I have about the album, other than a few spots of filler lyrics, is that the transition from glam-rock to heavier tracks doesn’t let the album flow naturally.
Although never quite reaching the legendary reach and scope of his unholy triptych, Born Villain is the most fun and energetic Manson album since The Golden Age of Grotesque. Manson finally embraces the freedom that has been at his fingertips since the beginning of the decade, proving to his fans and his detractors that he’s not done yet. Let’s just hope that we won’t have to wait another decade for more.