Verdict: 3.5 / 5
The man you love to hate is back with his eighth studio album.
No review can be written about a new Manson album without invoking the legendary band’s hallowed triptych collection of, ‘Antichrist Superstar’, ‘Mechanical Animals’ and ‘Holywood’. These great albums cast a long shadow and Manson has been living in his own shadow for more almost a decade. The band has had seismic shifts in the last ten years, talented members; Twiggy, John 5 and Ginger Fish were the band’s greatest losses when they departed ways with Marilyn. Artistically, the years since the glory days of ’96 to 2000 have been lean. Despite Twiggy’s return on their previous record none of the band’s albums since 2000 have been befitting of their prestigious musical pedigree. This is not to say ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque’, ‘Eat Me Drink Me’ and ‘The High End of Low’ were a waste of time but like any real artist, Manson’s creative wave had petered out a bit. On ‘Born Villain’ the juices seem to be flowing once more. While not a tour de force like ‘Antichrist Superstar’ or ‘Mechanical Animals’ there are moments on ‘Born Villain’ where the listener gets excited and enthralled as in days of old.
Helicopter blades are mimicked on the guitar during the opening of ‘Hey Cruel World’. This is supplemented by a sweet repeating guitar arpeggio and some tasty industrial percussion work. The moment the chorus kicks in and Manson shouts, ‘creator, preserver, destroyer ask which one I am?’ you are immediately transported back to 1996. The song sounds fresh but the chorus is straight from the early days. ‘No Reflection’ is one of the album’s catchiest tunes. On it, Manson uses a croaky low voice to great effect. ‘No Reflection’ sounds like new Manson, the vibe is both dark and light and the band subtly leans into their new wave influences via Killing Joke, Joy Division and Bauhaus. The song oscillates between metal and new wave Goth. ‘Pistol Whipped’ is enjoyable but lacks the allure of the first two songs. Due to the dry and constricted sound of the album a song like ‘Pistol Whipped’ lacks the atmosphere and space needed to make this mid-tempo rocker workable.
Always one for neologisms and odd wordplay, Manson is at his sardonic best when calling a song, ‘Overneath the Path of Misery’. A quote from Macbeth recited at the beginning contextualizes the song’s themes of misery, memory and the ephemeral nature of existence but Manson turns that viewpoint around by reclaiming himself and his actions and not to let himself or his actions be swallowed by misery and emptiness…that’s what he seems to be saying. He explores tragedy by conjuring Greek myth and deconstructs it with humorous and contentious lyrics like, ‘the rape of Persephone was choreographed by all the wrong Greeks…the rape of Persephone was a…marketing scheme’ and ‘is there anyway to unswallow my pride’. Second single, ‘Slo-Mo-Tion’ opens with a groovy bass and drum jam. The verse and chorus are a bit weak but the song has a funky mid-tempo glam rock feel. ‘The Gardener’ opens with the best bass line groove on the album. Manson performs the verses spoken word style. Keyboard and guitar effects and tones move in and out of the groove to great effect. The chorus bursts out and you’re in new musical turf once again.
Joy Division and Bauhaus influences come out once more on ‘Flowers of Evil’. The rhythm section holds the fort up once more too. Another tasty bass line accompanies Manson’s low registered vocal. Disappointingly, the chorus doesn’t live up to the verses as it has a weak beat pattern and vocal melody. ‘Children of Cain’ and ‘Disengaged’ are weaker songs on the album, with no cool bass lines, melodies or riffs to add to the record, they grow on you but don’t work as well as say… ‘Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms’. A super cool guitar lick starts the song, bass and drums come crashing in and bolster a terrific riff. The chorus spews ‘Mechanical Animals’ and ‘Holywood’ but man does it rock! It’s surely a candidate for best song on the album. With its industrial metal buzz, ‘Murderers are Getting Prettier’ gets two thumbs up, that crazy chorus and frenzied solo are just so good. Goth, electro and acoustic elements are pleasantly combined on ‘Born Villain’ and the postlude; ‘Breaking the Same Old Ground’ starts off uneventful but then it employs an amazing guitar arpeggio breakdown and creepy keyboard segment which gives way to a classy outro solo. The Carly Simon cover, ‘You’re so Vain’ is a bit of a let down, not because of Manson’s doing but because that song was never that great in the first place. The lyrical content always had more allure than the music, plus it is a bonus track so Manson might feel the same way and did it as a joke. Interestingly, Johnny Depp plays guitar on the track.
‘Born Villain’ sees Manson reclaiming his legacy and moving forward artistically. The record takes a while to get used to, it sounds very dry and brittle at times. Strip away the antics and Manson’s provocative nature and underneath is a compelling artist and this record proves it. Twiggy’s role and input is invaluable to Manson and hopefully the two of them stay together for as long as possible. As far as shock factor, Manson can’t be anymore shocking than 1998. Lady Gaga and the Rihanna have stolen that from him. Thankfully, he has talent and great albums to fall back on.