Once Marilyn Manson’s shock-rock antics ceased being an effective attention-getting mechanism sometime in the ’00s, the boo-scary rocker had a difficult time finding his footing. Although his core fans and rock aficionados never abandoned him or his albums, the one-time Nine Inch Nails protege no longer functioned as a go-to cultural lightning rod for hate and outrage. As a result, both his rebellious countercultural poses and music started to feel stale and unimaginative, especially in the years post-2007’s flashy Eat Me, Drink Me.
With The Pale Emperor, Manson is finally reversing that downhill artistic slide. Credit for that goes to his collaborators, in particular Tyler Bates, the veteran film composer behind Guardians Of The Galaxy and Watchmen. Bates’ production touches and writing assistance help Manson add texture and focus to his gloomy glam-goth tendencies—from the atmospheric synthpop of “Warship My Wreck” and the slo-mo bluesy prowl “Killing Strangers” to the slash-and-burn Bowieisms of “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” and the metallic drawl of “Slave Only Dreams To Be King.” The addition of drummer Gil Sharone (who’s currently in Stolen Babies and previously played in The Dillinger Escape Plan) is also a boon to this music. Sharone adds a sleazy, grinding underbelly to the clashing electro-industrial highlight “Deep Six” and the debauched classic rock dirge “Birds Of Hell Awaiting,” while his taut rhythms lend a “Personal Jesus” vibe to the glammy “The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles.”
Perhaps more important, Manson makes great strides as a lyricist on The Pale Emperor. He’s in an introspective mood, reflecting on his own shortcomings and ever-evolving identity, as well as the breakdown of social mores (“We pack demolition, we can’t pack emotion”) and politics behind power dynamics. Yet The Pale Emperor is also dryly funny; both his Biblical references (“Lazarus got no dirt on me /And I rise to every occasion”) and nods to Greek mythology (“You want to know what Zeus said to Narcissus? ‘You’d better watch yourself’”) are laced with sly humor.
In recent times, Manson proved he hasn’t lost the ability to garner controversy; see the recent storm around a leaked video containing scenes of Lana Del Rey allegedly being raped. The difference this time around is that he doesn’t need to become tabloid fodder to stay relevant. On The Pale Emperor, he sounds both inspired and rejuvenated; for the first time in a while, the most interesting thing about Manson is his music.