In my mind and ears, this should have been Manson’s fourth proper album. While Golden Age of Grotesque was a somewhat interesting experiment with Tim Skold, Twiggy Ramirez’s (Jeordie White) absence over the course of the next four years (and couple of albums) was duly noted. By the time he returned for 2009’s High End of Low, it seemed as if too many ideas came flowing forth and there was a lack of cohesion throughout the set as they tried to find their way.
This is Manson and Ramirez returning to their roots and feeding them with equal parts glam and sleaze (a la Mechanical Animals) and aggressive industrial rock (Antichrist and Holy Wood). The highlight of this fusion is “The Gardner”, a spoken word verse to sung chorus track. The whole track is about the groove and Manson’s lyric – something Ramirez always seems to find an environment for.
Let’s not jump ahead though – as with all of Manson’s album’s, this is a body of work from top to bottom. “Hey Cruel World…” reminds heavily of “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” as an aggressive album lead off. From there comes the first single, “No Reflection”, with Ramirez’s caustic guitar angularly cutting in along with Manson’s industrialist “Whoa-ah-ah, ah, ah-ha-ha” churning like something from Grotesque. “I don’t know which me that I love/I’ve got no reflection.” It reminds one of the Manson/Sneaker Pimps collaboration “Long Hard Road…” off of the Spawn soundtrack. It’s a promising two-song punch to lead the album off. In my car, I’m lucky to stay on the road as I imagine myself behind the drum kit.
“Pistol Whipped” is up next and it toys with the beginning of “God Eat God” from 2000’s Holy Wood album. It gives way to a deceptive disco beat and sparse guitar line. This track is not for the squeamish – Marilyn ruminates about a sadomasochistic relationship. The verses give way to a bombastic chorus fit for an arena. “Overneath the Path of Misery” begins with a creepy vocoder intonation before toying with an Antichrist vibe again. Blasts of guitar and tribal beats provide backdrop as Manson continues the nihilistic rage. “Slo-Mo-Tion” would not have been out of place on 1998’s Mechanical Animals.
As much as I like “The Gardner”, it does slow the pace of the album – a pace which continues with album throwaway ‘The Flowers of Evil’ and the dirge-like “Children of Cain”. It’s built up by a fairly strong chorus but, for the most part, it feels like karaoke for Manson behind an old NIN instrumental track. (“Disengaged” is equally forgettable.) “Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms” flirts with grunge and sounds like a Soundgarden riff before opening up to a wide-armed chorus. While the riff is fun, it doesn’t fit in with what the band set out to accomplish on the first half of the album and seems disconnected after a couple tracks in limbo.
The proper amount of industrial wall of sound returns on “Murders are Getting Prettier Everyday”, which finds the entire mechanism that is Manson in fine form. It’s quite obvious that the group is attempting to recapture past glories on this release. For the most part, they hit their marks, but there are potholes in this chariot ride through hell. The title track is a hypnotic drum loop and another uneasy guitar line interspersed with spurts of feedback and featuring the prototypical Manson line “I don’t ever want God to hear our screams and mistake them for prayers.” The last 1:15 of the song is where things get interesting and intense… the problem is that the song is 5:15 in length and it’s a bit of crawl to get that point.
The album closes quietly with “Breaking the Same Old Ground”, Manson’s answer to the poor man’s ballad. An emotional teethgrinder of a track, understated along a prodding bassline and eerie keys to the build up where Manson declares “I own my death and I am in love with oblivion.”
This album almost wipes out the mostly bad and derivative taste I had in my mouth over the past couple albums. It’s an earnest effort and it begs the question: What comes next? Has the Goth Prince returned to own the remaining Hot Topics of the world or is this a swan song? For all that’s unholy, let’s hope it’s not the latter…
A cover of non-album track “You’re So Vain” (a Carly Simon cover featuring Johnny Depp) is also included and is another raved up re-working in the same vein as other covers from the Manson crew (i.e. Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”). Not really digging the original track, even though some guitar squall from Johnny Depp really does much for this mostly pedestrian cover.