First, a confession. I feel uncomfortable reviewing Marilyn Manson’s “The Pale Emperor.” I mean, I’m thirty six, for christ’s sake. Haven’t we outgrown the shock rocker of the 90s, and the androgynous king of self indulgence that followed in the 00s, finally bottoming out in almost overnight, Robert Smithesque debauch that spurned on memes like:
Well. Haven’t we all outgrown it?
I think that’s precisely the point. You get the sense throughout this album of a kind of dawning, bleary eyed sobriety. The album gets more raw as it goes. Seven days? Imagine waking up from a twenty year long binge. And your alter ego once took control of the airwaves, it took over your personal life, and only when that was smoking wreckage did you manage to take a look backward and see the alter ego staring back at you. And on the other hand is the ever immanent grave. Not the Halloween dress-up grave, but the one your friends bodies are starting to OD their way into.
“My dagger and swagger are useless in the face of the mirror when the mirror is made of my face.”
I’m not saying that is Brian Warner’s day to day life. I couldn’t know, because I never met the guy. I’m reading into the narrative I’ve been given. That’s also kind of the point. The “person” I have known over the years was the persona, “Marilyn Manson,” not him. The schtick even got tired of itself. So boring, so predictable. The only option left was to try to come clean.
“Don’t know if I cannot open up
I been opened too much
Double-crossed and glossed over in my pathos”
And that dawning self awareness is the conflict that seems to lurk beneath Pale Emperor, giving both the album’s “sound”, as well as the persona it presents, a serious identity complex.
If you think I’m reading a bit too much into what is, even at its better moments, “still a Manson album for chrissakes,” graveyard cliche and all… Well, maybe. But it isn’t entirely baseless. The dichotomy has between Mr. Bates and Marilyn Manson have created some downright confusing and bizarre articles, such as the following from the New York Times, where he talks a bit about the difference between them,
“They began meeting in Mr. Bates’s home studio, even during daylight hours — a new experience for Marilyn Manson. “Because around 3 a.m. is when my brain starts going really” crazy, he said, using filthier language, “I used to think that that was the time that was best to record at. But I realized that I don’t have that anymore, if I get it out of me early. Daytime is more effective for me to function as a — ah, I wouldn’t say as a normal human being. I would just say as a more effective villain; a more effective, destroying, chaos element in the world. I think that’s what I’m here for.”
Left untethered, Marilyn Manson will go on like this, proclaiming himself chaos incarnate and T.M.I.-ing his way through his life story. (“I tangent a lot,” he said, understating broadly.)
“He circles the drain of an idea for quite a while,” Mr. Bates said. “But if you have the patience, you’ll see that he is making a point, that he is pretty funny and pretty smart at the same time. Sometimes he doesn’t make a point, but I found him to be interesting.”
He also made it clear that there would be no wasting of studio time. “He realized that him walking in the room and being Marilyn Manson didn’t matter to me,” said Mr. Bates, a married father of two daughters, whose email auto-signature is “kindest regards.” For Marilyn Manson, the collaboration felt less like work than a conversation, he said. “I’ve never really had that sort of musical brotherhood in the same way,” he said.
Mr. Bates also provided lyrical direction. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do this with you if it’s an angry manifesto,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘The only thing you have left is to inspire people with your words.’ ””
That’s what middle age is these days, isn’t it? The raging monster of your youth has hit a wall, but you’re not quite ready to hang up the gloves yet, either. Maybe that’s why I felt this album was worth reviewing, and the ironic way Manson has, at least for the passing moment, managed to make himself relevant again.