Category: Blues / Gothic / Rock
Album: The Pale Emperor
Blurb: Trading out schlocky goth/industrial for a much more classic blues/rock vibe with a cinematic flair, Marilyn Manson manages to successfully reinvent himself and creates what may be his most personal album yet, marred only by his less-than-stellar vocals.
Any time an established artist reinvents himself or herself, there is a considerable amount of risk involved in potentially alienating the core audience; often times, it is a deciding factor between continued longevity and career suicide. In this writer’s opinion, reinvention has served Marilyn Manson quite well over the years, with his biggest missteps occurring when he adhered too closely to the formula that brought him his initial success. For instance, following up the industrialized gothic metal of Antichrist Superstar with the pseudo sci-fi glam rock of Mechanical Animals resulted in what remains some of Manson’s most creative and cohesive work, before returning to the deliberate shock rock that made him every parent’s worst nightmare to much less avail. With The Pale Emperor, Manson finally trades out the influence of KISS and Alice Cooper for something with a darker emotional tone – the blues.
Co-written with producer and score composer Tyler Bates, this album’s blues/rock-inspired approach is undoubtedly a byproduct of Manson’s acting gigs on shows like Sons of Anarchy and Californication, with Bates’ cinematic touch adding a sense of scope to each song and bringing together the album as a whole. Perhaps an obvious choice of a lead-off single for its faster pace and much more straightforward rock vibe, “Deep Six” is indeed one of the weaker tracks given its tonal resemblance to the likes of “Rock is Dead” or Manson’s past cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” but after the equally unimpressive opening track, “Killing Strangers” with the rather annoying line “We got guns” repeated ad nauseam, it’s to the album’s benefit that these two duds are done away with right from the onset. The ‘60s go-go beat of “The Devil Beneath My Feet” is particularly catchy with its slithery distorted bass line and ghostly ambient bridge, while “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” is somehow reminiscent of Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting” with its mournful slivers of crying guitars and a simple but striking bass set to a strident shuffle beat. “Odds of Even” ends the album (barring three acoustic renditions on the deluxe edition) with a languid tempo that allows the subtle layers of simple synths and scathing slide guitars hitting with the force of a power drill to build in intensity amid sparsely atmospheric piano, bass, and drums to make for a truly gut-wrenching finale.
Without the participation of Twiggy Ramirez or any of Manson’s band mates, it becomes necessary to view The Pale Emperor as more of a solo effort by Marilyn Manson the man, not the band; with this thinking in mind, the lyrical impact of the songs becomes all the more palpable, with “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” being a prime example with lines like “I just feel like I’m condemned to wear someone else’s hell” and “Rather be your victim, than to be with you.” Set against a strutting rhythm and resonant guitars, such words seemingly show a willingness to break from his self destructive diva/demigod persona of the past and accept a new fate. As well, “Slave Only Dreams to be King” is particularly acerbic as the interplay of powerful drums, screaming guitars, and caustic keyboards underscores Manson’s howls of “Slave never dreams to be free / Slave only dreams to be king” and “You are what you beat,” as if lamenting the image he himself created of the degraded and debased rock star at the top. From this standpoint, The Pale Emperor can clearly be regarded as Manson’s most personal work, one in which he speaks for himself instead of filtering reactionary emotions in the guise of a fictional character.
Bringing The Pale Emperor down considerably in this writer’s estimation is simply the vocals; never an exceptional singer, Manson’s throaty rasp does well to hit those bombastic highs when he requires it, and his softer croon is not so bad in itself, but the dynamic between the two extremes never quite gels. Given the album’s more classic blues/rock vibe, the vocal delivery would have been an essential factor in conveying the more naked emotions, and while there is a sense that Manson is attempting to channel the likes of Johnette Napolitano or Jim Morrison, it ultimately falls flat more often than not. Nevertheless, credit must be given where it’s due, and along with a few guest musicians – namely drummer Gil Sharone, saxophonist Frank Macchia, and pianist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – Bates and Manson have crafted a decidedly excellent take on the blues, given an acerbic and acidic modern edge. Whether this reinvention will last and lead him toward other more creative avenues remains to be seen, but flaws in the vocal delivery aside, it can be said that The Pale Emperor is perhaps the best album Marilyn Manson has released in some time.
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)