The Rise and Fall of Marilyn Manson’s Pale Empire: No More Snark with ‘Pale Emperor’

Marilyn Manson has proved once again he is not an artist that will go quietly into that goodnight, or into a shock rock pigeonhole.  On Pale Emperor, released January 20, he continues the self-effacing journey he started with his more recent albums Eat Me, Drink Me, High End of Low, and Born Villain as an attempt to resurrect and distance himself from the shock rock past, to be recognized fully as the forlorn, multidimensional artist he claims to be.

While at times Pale Emperor almost delves into a drunken pity party, he’s still unapologetically himself; intelligent and not a happy camper.  Lyrically and musically, he’s no longer the contrived boogeyman with loud bursts of rage and caustic poetry, but a grieving 46 year-old who has also been reading too much Greek mythology and German folklore. Welcome to an existential crisis of an aging and tired superstar, and make sure you hate or love every second of it.

This, if you were expecting it, is not a concept album in the true sense, as Manson is still the concept. He is distancing his present from his shock rock past, and now focusing on putting out something that’s lyrically strong, experimental for him, and that’s without the wall of sound and bad chanting lyrics of years past.

The first track “Killing Strangers” sets the tone for the entire album. Desperate, dangerous, and bluesy reminiscent of a combination of “Are You The Rabbit?” and Rob Zombie’s Educated Horses, the lyrics “We’re killing strangers…/So we don’t kill the ones that we love” takes the listener on substance-clouded journey, half-criticizing, half-empathizing emotionally with an explosive and emotionally-wounded NRA supporter.  At the end, his voice is a desperate, drunken hillbilly wail of “We got guns, so you betta run!” Accompanied by “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” the first single off the album, these two songs seem to be written in the same thought (“I got bullets/In a booth/I’d rather be your victim/Than be with you”), which may prompt the listener to make a phone call to Homeland Security.

The next track “Deep Six,” also released before the album dropped, is an exciting single. Unlike the rest of the album, this has the most glimmer of the good, old Manson and could fit in seamlessly with his other works.  With the energy and sharp hooks, this would be a wonderful live song.

“Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” is one of the most personal tracks Manson has ever penned, showing a refreshingly lucid and vulnerable side of himself without casting blame or showing explicit anger.  Combined with “Slave Only Dreams To Be King” these attempt to pull the album together thematically before the rest of the album just lets you have at it.

If I was going to pick a song to leave off an album, we could have forgotten about “Cupid Carries A Gun” and saved it for something else.  Sound-wise, it continues the bluesy-“The Devil’s Rejects“-feel, but lends no furthering of Manson’s Pale Emperor concept, the aging and emotional man behind the Manson. Coincidentally, it is also the theme song of the WGN series Salem.

Though I was left wishing there was more of his usual snark, the quippy wit that made him an intentional enemy of the righteous Right-Wing conservatives and Fox News, and filled my formative years with someone whose name and lyrics I could whisper to scare the nuns in Catholic school, the album is a compilation of well-composed yet acerbic swan songs.  It has its moments, crafted with an almost too-experienced hand and is clearly a structured departure from what is expected from him.  Manson has now put aside his shocking-to-be-shocking childish ways in lieu of something more elegant and more human than just a parade of anger, substance abuse, and Gothic tropes.  This could be the album he has been waiting to compose, and is dedicated to his late mother.

Image courtesy of the artist

1 Comment

  1. Lauren S

    January 25, 2015 at 12:16 am

    Awesome review, Sam! I don’t really listen to him but I do respect him as an evolving, introspective artist.

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