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Marilyn Manson review, We Are Chaos: Controversial artist’s 11th album spans everything from Satanism to angry Enya

Given the state of the world at the moment, it feels as good a time as any to release the tension by turning the speakers up to 11

Helen Brown
Friday 11 September 2020 12:33 BST
The artwork for Marilyn Manson’s 'We Are Chaos'
The artwork for Marilyn Manson’s 'We Are Chaos' (Press image)

“I’m a bee, the king bee!” growls 51-year-old Brian Warner in the opening lines of We Are Chaos, his 11th album as Marilyn Manson. It’s hardly the most terrifying image the self-proclaimed “Antichrist Superstar” has delivered. It's almost cuddly, edging toward comical, as his fuzzy little insect persona threatens to cover the earth in honey so that everybody eats themselves.

But you see his problem. The dude who took his stage name from his country's most famous sex symbol and its most famous killer spent 26 years trying his depraved darnedest to appal the average “talk-show American”, and it was inevitable he would run out of genuinely shocking ideas at some point. In recent years, he’s even appeared to back down on some of his stunts. Before the 2016 US election, he released a video that appeared to show him holding aloft the head of a decapitated Donald Trump, only for him to deny that the blond-haired, red-tied victim was actually the Republican candidate. He must have been disappointed to score no headlines at all with his Russell Brandesque refusal to vote at all, given a choice between “dog s*** and cat s***”.

Ridiculous, of course. But then, we’ve all got a dollop of nihilism in us and most psychological studies suggest its healthy to indulge it occasionally with some daftly diabolical imagery and some really noisy music. Given the state of the world at the moment, I reckon this is as good a time as any to release the tension by turning the speakers up to 11 and snarling along with Manson as he repeats, on the title track: “We are sick, f***ed up and complicated/ We are chaos, we can’t be cured.”

Honestly, give it a try. The tune is unchallenging to the point of dirge. In fact, by Manson’s standards, the music isn’t even all that loud or jarring. There are lots of glam stompers-by-numbers. He teamed up with country singer Shooter Jennings to make the album, and the organic simplicity of country chord progressions lies beneath much of the industrial post-punk chrome shell.

Hell, this record is even rather pretty at times. The repeated piano patterns of “Half-way & One Step Forward” (based on Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song “Anthem”) find Manson coming off like an angry Enya. “Paint You With My Love”, meanwhile, has a sweet shoegazey sway accessorised by a George Harrison slide guitar and a stack of Ohhhs and Ahhs in the backing vocals. The song’s lyrics made me less easy though. I mean, I can smile at all the Satanic stuff because – like Manson – I don’t believe in the Devil. I’ve always rather enjoyed the way Manson stuck two nail-polished fingers up at the hypocrisy of the churchgoing society in which he was raised and abused. I chuckled at the cheeky way he now makes “Get behind me Satan” (on the chorus of “Perfume”) sound like a sexual invitation.

But the sexism sits less well with me. And he succeeds in baiting my hate when he sneers on “Paint You With My Love” that “All the blondes drop their panties and cry/ To the father’s first lullaby.” It picks up on the whiff of misogyny in his use of the “King Bee” and reminded me of some of the darker passages in his 1998 autobiography: The Long Hard Road out of Hell. I've never forgotten his brag about convincing “some skaggy whore in her forties” and “some goofy tan girl with braces” to snort dried sea monkeys.

“We let them stay [on our tour bus],” he wrote, “and managed to convince them to snort a packet of sea monkey powder. Strangely enough, it was white and came with a small spoon, not unlike cocaine,” he wrote. “I didn’t even have to use false pretences to persuade them to do this. I actually read them the training manual, explaining that these small creatures are actually brine shrimp and that they will go on to grow inside their bodies for a year. I told them that nothing could be more exciting than having these small creatures flowing through their bloodstream – not to mention the unknown high that might await them.”

It’s disappointing from a guy who often comes off as startlingly thoughtful in interviews. I know lots of people who changed their minds about him after his interview with Michael Moore in the film Bowling for Columbine. The American right – and even some on the left – had been blaming Manson’s music for ‘inspiring’ the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. It turned out the killers hadn’t been fans. And when Moore offered Manson the mic and asked what he would say to the people of Columbine he said: “I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did. The two by-products of that whole tragedy were, violence in entertainment, and gun control. And how perfect that that was the two things that we were going to talk about with the upcoming election. And also, then we forgot about Monica Lewinsky and we forgot about, uh, the president was shooting bombs overseas, yet I'm a bad guy because I, well I sing some rock'n'roll songs, and who's a bigger influence, the president or Marilyn Manson? I'd like to think me, but I'm going to go with the president.”

Despite the droney cliches about being dead longer than you're alive, etc, you do get flashes of this kind of insight in Manson’s lyrics. On “Perfume”, he hammers the 21st-century cult of celebrity victimhood with “‘Cause victim is chic/ You’re as famous as your pain.” And on “Solve Coagula”, he offers the surprisingly graceful acceptance of “I’m not special/ I’m just broken/ And I don’t wanna be fixed.” We’ve all got a bit of inner teen masochism that shares the sentiment. It feels good to bawl that bee out of your bonnet.

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