Category Archives: In Defense Of

Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

Hey pal, you've got some cake on your face...

Hey pal, you’ve got some cake on your face…

Take a trip down memory lane with me.  The year is 1995.  I’m watching MTV with my buddy and a video starts.  Some clown covered in bird shit with makeup all over his face is screaming at the camera.

Friend: “Oh shit, this guy is awesome!  You know them?”
Me: “Nope.”
Friend: “This song rules.”
Me, singing along: “...who am I to disagree?
Friend: “I thought you said you didn’t know them?  How do you know this song?”
Me: *rolls eyes*

And so began my absolute love affair with Marilyn Manson.  A year later, I was hunched over a brand new CD acquisition, CD liner booklet filled with depraved, filthy images of decay, perversion, and a guy on his knees, a gas mask on his face, connected to a hose attached to another guy’s crotch.  This was serious fucked-up shit.  I still remember the fresh smell of that booklet, the newly-opened CD fragrance that gives me Ratatouille moments up until this very day.

A few years later, I’m standing outside my local CD purveyor in the dead of winter, freezing my ass off.  My mom was with me, buying everyone around us coffee.  At the front of the line, Marilyn Manson sat at a long table, face plastered in colorful makeup.  Hours later, I finally get to meet my hero and all I could muster was “OhmyfuckinggodIloveyousomuch!”   He signed my copy of his autobiography with a smile and nodded at me.  My mom came up next with another copy to sign for my friend.  “How are you today?” she asked him.  He smiled at her and replied, “Very well, thank you.”  And then they start chatting!  Meanwhile I’m standing off to the side, aghast that Manson is getting more out of my mom and they are becoming fast friends.

Over the next few years, I don my makeup.  I do my nails.  I try the torn pantyhose look.  I squeeze into my pleather pants.  I see him in concert about 6 or 7 times.  You’ve never seen me in such a frenzied state.  Nothing beats it.  The last time I feel such absolute fanboy love/lust, it’s 2001 (the post-Columbine Holy Wood era, i.e. his last truly great spectacle tour).  And then nothing but a steady decline.

The Golden Age of Grotesque was Manson’s turning point.  The last album that incorporated that insane feral energy and deviously intelligent wit.  Then the drugs and relationships got the better of him and he released a trio of absolute eye-rollers, starting with the passable Eat Me, Drink Me, then the godawful High End of Low, and finally an album that I don’t even have on my “just in case” external hard drive, Born Villain.  As a good fan, I never completely gave up hope, but I didn’t get those hopes up either.

And then The Pale Emperor happened.

What an album.  Clocking in at a sparse 10 tracks, it’s a concise, masterful gut-punch, full of swagger, thump and enough old-school creep-atmosphere to please his die hard shock rock faithful.  I never thought I’d see this day.

Depending on how much you’ve listened to him in the past, I can break the album down into a couple categories.
“Old” Manson (i.e. sounds like it was produced by Trent or something, aka “File Under Antichrist Superstar and Holy Wood):  “Deep Six,” “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”
SwagTASTIC (i.e those Manson songs that you can kinda dance to, aka might fit nicely onto Mechanical Animals): “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” “Devil Beneath My Feet,” “Cupid Carries A Gun”
Creeptastic (i.e. perfect for a horror movie, a mix between “Man That You Fear” and the creepier tracks on Holy Wood, and all the amazing ballads on Mechanical Animals): “Killing Strangers,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting,” “Odds of Even”
There’s also a trio of acoustic bonus tracks on the deluxe edition: “Day 3” (acoustic of “Odds of Even”), “Fated, Faithful, Fatal” (acoustic of “Slave Only Dreams to Be King”) and “Fall of the House of Death” (acoustic of “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”).  Well worth your time, if you can snag them.  Manson claims that every song on the album was recorded in one take, so God bless producer Tyler Bates.
If I had to choose a least favorite song on the album (i.e. that dreaded skippable track), it’d have to be “Warship My Wreck.”  The good thing is that it’s not bad.  It’s just not as catchy as everything else.  It’s still got great atmosphere, but once you’ve heard everything else, you’re going to want to skip ahead.
In the Manson power rankings, I’m going to go ahead and put it behind Holy Wood.  It’s likely tied, overall, with Portrait of an American Family.  But for me, at this age, it barely nudges Portrait down a peg.  As follows:
1. Antichrist Superstar
2. Mechanical Animals
3. Holy Wood
4. Pale Emperor
5. Portrait
6. Eat Me, Drink Me
7. Smells Like Children
8. High End of Low
9. Born Villain
Take that to the bank.  Manson has aged and he still has a lot to offer a world that has come to accept him as not really that shocking at all.  Surprisingly, he remains a hero/icon to a new generation of ignored, lost and misunderstood youth (who weren’t even old enough to remember the religious furor kicked up during the Antichrist era).  He remains one of the most intelligent performers alive and, even though his wit and ferocity were strangely silenced during the Bush years, music still needs a cartoon villain and underdog.  The fact that Holy Wood remains relevant almost 14 years later is both a sad truth about American society (and it’s love of God, guns and government) and a reminder that Manson was one of most vital and important music and pop culture figures of our lifetime.  The Pale Emperor is his way of saying “Don’t count me out just yet.”
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In Defense Of: Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Who?

You’ve been living under a rock if you claim to be on top of current music trends and have no idea who Lana Del Rey is.  And if you’re part of the ignorant masses, be patient: you’ll know her soon enough.  There’s been such a shit-storm swirling around her that we just had to post SOMETHING about LDR, lest we lose credibility as a music blog.

For months now, LDR has been a mainstay on the indie blogosphere.  First she was lauded as a fresh (and sexy) new face.  And then that “new face” turned out to be quite literal (yay balloon-lips!) and a giant backlash came crashing forth onto the poor collagen-injected lass.  Finally, SNL happened and it seemed like this unfortunate soul should just pack it up and get out of town.  She’s now cancelled an upcoming tour to work on her performance a little bit.  But why all the hate?

The world can be cruel.  Unfortunately for many, it’s all about authenticity.  Should we write her off because she changed her name (Google “Lizzy Grant”) and got a little plastic surgery?  No one in the music industry has ever changed their name and image, rightOf course Bono is his real name!  That’s Madonna’s real face!

I won’t bring up young stars like Adele or Katy Perry; LDR is not even in the same universe.  The indie world spawned her and seems to think she belongs to them, so let’s keep it small-time.  I recall when The Bravery first came out in ’04/’05, bloggers shat on them because they were a former ska-punk band that got an image makeover to cash in on the darker, jagged sounds of Interpol and Franz Ferdinand.  How dare they.  I mean, dude had blonde dreds and now he’s making goth-pop tunez?  Poser!  But The Bravery still had catchy-as-shit songs and opened for Green Day.  They are happily laughing at the bank while we have already forgotten about them.  Even The Strokes had to deal with issues of authenticity, but we’ve all forgotten about that, haven’t we?  Now they can do no wrong, even if their last album was absolute, utter shite.

What about the “alleged” plastic surgery”?  Again, we shant mention Madonna.  But I’ll call out my all-time favorite, Tori Amos.  Girlfriend got a facelift.  All her fans hate it.  Though I’m sure the pulling of her face-flaps has no connection to the state of her music, dismal as it may be these days.  She still sings like an angel, even if she resembles the Phantom of the Opera now.  But why should it even matter if an artist got her lips pumped with so much juice that they look scarily Jolie-esque?  She didn’t get performance-enhancing throat surgery or a new diaphragm, so what does it matter?  Though it’s pretty unfair the more you think about it, the point is moot if the songs don’t work.

So what of those songs?  I picked up the album this week (I actually purchased a physical CD!); it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2012.  And it is not that bad.  It’s pretty damn good, actually.  A lot more solid than half the stuff I put on my “Best Of 2011” list.  Buried under a hype-pile that Vampire Weekend would recognize, there is a solid album of slinky, sensual slow-jam goodness.  My initial reaction was “Hrm, it’s languid like Mazzy Star… I want some red wine and a hot bath… preferably with a slinky little lady next to me.”  One can dream.  On “Diet Mountain Dew,” I caught some whiffs of Poe, one of my favorite artists ever, who used great hip-hop sampling in her arrangements, like on “Angry Johnny” or “Terrible Thought.”  I’ve also read some comparisons to Fiona Apple, which I agree with, only insomuch as they are both waifish, sexy and a little standoffish.  Both would likely break my heart.

This album reminds me of the ’90s, for all the goodness that entails.  There’s heavy use of old vocal samples, classic hip-hop beats and simple, groan-worthy lyrics straight from an artsy kid’s diary (“Off To The Races” Betty-Boop-ish cooing is a good place to start).  She’s trying to sound dangerous and edgy, like the cool girl in the group that everyone wants to be seen with, yet no one dares to approach.  It’s all an act, but it fits into the throwback vibe of the album.  There’s even a great Bond-worthy effort on “Million Dollar Man,” grand strings and crescendos included.

My favorite thing about her is the delivery.  She sounds confident, like she doesn’t give a shit about what you have to say.  It’s slow burn, drawn out, stretched like hot caramel over your tongue.  At times, she sounds dolorous, slighted, damaged and drunk.  At other times, she sounds high, pliable and chilled-the-fuck-out.  An ingenue with a trip-hop backing band.

Comparing her to highly established artists is unfair, yet there aren’t many fresh faces that I could categorize her with.  Though the indie community broke her, she was never supposed to be an indie crush-object like St. Vincent, Cat Power, Neko Case or Jenny Watson.  Her voice, style and image — no matter how manufactured — are for a bigger audience.  As she declares on “Radio“: “Not even they can stop me now…their heavy words can’t bring me down… Oh yeah baby love me ’cause I’m playing on the radio… How do you like me now?”  She scored a #2 debut on the Billboard chart, just below Adele.  Not too shabby.  Haters be damned.

If you want to get past the hype and decide for yourself, a good place to start is with my personal favorites (did you expect otherwise?): “Blue Jeans,” “National Anthem,” “Carmen,” and “Summertime Sadness.”

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