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Marilyn Manson - We Are Chaos (Album Review)

Thursday, 17 September 2020 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Marilyn Manson has gone country. Well, not really. He’s wearing a Stetson. Posturing aside, Manson has swapped his recent collaborator, Tyler Bates, for Shooter Jennings: son of outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings.

To the untrained ear, Jennings’ involvement on Manson’s 11th album, ‘We Are Chaos’, amounts to a bit of pedal steel guitar during Paint My Love. But what the producer has actually done is taken a country approach to assembly, rather than delivery. He’s boiled Manson’s bones down to the basics.

Behind all the convoluted concepts on his classic triptych of albums, and propping up the hit-and-piss output ever since, is a knack for storytelling. Even on Manson’s sadboi car crash of a record, ‘The High End of Low’, glimmers of narrative excellence shone through. That’s what you get here, just more of it. 

With ‘We Are Chaos’, we’re handed the introspective, pensive Manson we wanted but never heard on ‘Eat Me, Drink Me.’ There is no ‘character’ left to embody—he’s not Brian Warner playing up to the shock, the controversy, the decadence of the Marilyn Manson persona. 

He’s just a middle-aged man with man feelings, expressed bluntly and best on Solve Coagula: “I’m not special, I’m just broken and I don’t wanna be fixed.” It’s that iconic voice, warbling away with the chance to step away from metaphor and just feel.

Musically, ‘We Are Chaos’ largely discards the bluesy take on industrial Manson explored with Bates during ‘Heaven Upside Down’ and ‘The Pale Emperor’. Rather, this just reeks of Bowie. He’s not properly plundered the Starman’s box of tricks since 1998’s ‘Mechanical Animals’, and returning for a weathered, pared-down go at it is what makes this record exciting. 

It’s those glam-rock, curled lip, hip-thrusting ‘Aladdin Sane’-isms on Keep My Head Together, that wiry riff. It’s just so simple, so fun. The title track, in particular, is an uplifting hymn of damnation, its pessimistic euphoria echoing Bowie while drawing parallels to A Perfect Circle’s So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. “We are sick, fucked up and complicated. We are chaos, we can’t be cured,” shouldn’t sound anywhere near as triumphant as it does.

It’s stirring stuff, so on the one occasion he goes ‘classic’ Manson on Red Black and Blue, it seems weary in comparison. The order of the day is fewer crushing industrial riffs, more piano; less scabrous screaming, more wallowing heartache; less goth club bangers, more mid-tempo ditties to play in the end-credits of a Norwegian crime drama.

Lined up next to his contemporaries, Manson could look a bit stale here. After all, Rammstein have become the biggest touring metal band in the world, all the while churning out transgressive music videos and pushing the envelope of decency. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor has won Oscars for his film scores, and continues to sharpen the cutting edge with his day job. Manson isn’t shocking anymore. He’s not the American bogeyman, anathema to any God-fearing parent. In 2020, Marilyn Manson is just himself. And that’s quite something.


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