Shifting to the personal: Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Pale Emperor’
Meghan Cleary | Tuesday, February 17, 2015
I feel any review of Marilyn Manson’s work is best prefaced with a brief backstory. The established and highly recognized shock rocker is frequently criticized for his recent albums because of a more mellow and personal approach. Most of his fan base commended Manson for his mid-1990s political statement that shaped a large portion of a culture which challenges conservative America. But Manson should also be commended for his 21st-century output. The focus has shifted from the political to the personal, which caused many fans to lose interest. The statement on personal struggle is, however, equally as relatable, if not more so, than the response to political restraint.
Although industrial rock, heavy riffs and pitches that make you crave a canteen of water were staples to Manson’s introduction to the world, this is not where we should limit our expectations. Immediately beyond this, he had laid sounds and aesthetics of glam rock, channeling legends such as David Bowie. In the 2007 album “Eat Me, Drink Me” Manson shifts the focus from the instrumental stress to the lyrical interpretation of something connected to many members of his audience: childhood story. Although counterintuitive, it is better to think of Manson as an individual and a band that collaborate to give rise to different emotions, thoughts and questions with each release. That is where this review of “The Pale Emperor,” released Jan. 15, differs vastly from that of the average Manson follower.
“The Pale Emperor” takes on possibly the most drastic change in sound and reaction for Manson to date. This album cultivates a mood that is simultaneously soporific and attention-grabbing. Dedicated to his mother, who passed away last May, the tracks compile a depressed mood and a struggle to cope with the inevitable truth of human mortality. There are tracks where the intensity compares to white noise; there are also tracks that stomp feet and bob heads. Despite the change in tempo and intensity, it would be false to call the album an uplifting listen.
Opener “Killing Strangers” and closing track “Odds of Even” set conflicting tones to Manson’s album. Lyrically invariant and cliché, as well as instrumentally monotonous, these songs are hard to categorize as highlights of the album. If you are looking to implant a subliminal message in your studying regimen or would like to prime yourself for a grim night’s sleep, consider giving these a play. Other than that, their obvious message is dragged out for over five minutes each.
Additional slower-paced songs, such as “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” shed a contrasting light to the way the album begins and ends. The gothicism of Manson’s voice over a bassline and guitar riff of a much more mainstream air makes for a great combination. Although it is troubling to some that Manson would be described as mainstream, it is imperative to remember how he uses different rising emotions, which merely fill in the Tetris-like puzzle that is Manson’s repertoire. A mellow Manson is not detaching from the past Manson — it is all reactive, and this track truly embodies the influence of the past on the present. More mainstream sounds can be heard in other tracks such as “Cupid Carries a Gun,” which is featured as the theme song of WGN America’s TV show “Salem.”
Then we come across the more upbeat tunes. “Deep Six” is a brief return to a more familiar style that many identify with Manson. The lead guitar rightfully dominates on this track. With Manson’s age, it is no surprise that an attempt at focusing on melody would go on even the hardest and head-banging of songs. Although Manson has a melodic range no wider than Sinatra’s, he does manage to throw in a shrill chorus that is very nostalgic, if only for a moment.
Overall, Manson leaves us with a taste of the new and the familiar. Still, the direction and focus are shifted. Manson’s focus is vastly more emotionally and personally fixated in “The Pale Emperor” and opens his work to a much wider and more diverse audience. “The Pale Emperor” is just as telling of Manson’s opinion as any other album; it is merely the topic that is different. Ironic and seemingly reversed, this album would likely be the initial recommendation for those interested in easing into Manson’s discography.