What a bloody year, eh? Disease is everywhere. There’s uprising in the streets. Millions will soon be trapped indoors once again. Satan’s tiny-handed orange spawn is still in power in the US. The very fabric of society is being questioned and there’s a younger generation who want to rip it up and start again.
Well, some people thrive on chaos – and feeding it back to us. In the ‘90s, we had Marilyn Manson and his heavy metal circus to reflect the fin de siècle horrorshow he was blamed for inspiring. How many artists could weather the storm of having Columbine pinned on them? This guy managed it. Along with fellow public enemy and hell-raiser Eminem, Brian Warner rode the wave of moral panic into the 21st Century as a household name while still creating the prerequisite levels of fear, filth and fury.
By the ‘00s, the world seemed a lot more accepting of Manson. Filling arenas, appearing on Top Of The Tops and getting cosy on the sofas of Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross, the God Of Fuck became a goth-rock institution – a less cuddly Ozzy Osbourne for the new millennium. He was the icon he’d always threatened to become.
Warner entered the ’10s on something of a limp note with the diluted Manson-by-numbers-metal of 2012’s ‘Born Villian’, before he retraced the roots of all that he loves back to the blues for 2015’s earthy and inspired ‘The Pale Emperor’. It was the start of a purple patch that bled into 2017’s genre-hopping ‘Heaven Upside Down’. Across those two records, you really grew to appreciate the secret of his longevity: Manson’s only around today because his songs outlast the shock-factor. His recent output has been far more focus on his craft than the spectacle, and his 11th album ‘We Are Chaos’ continues in that same spirit.
The direct gut-punch of black glam-metal opener ‘Red Black And Blue’ may start with an ominous monologue and the threat to “cover the Earth in honey” so “everyone will eat themselves”, but this is no pantomime. At a stage of his career where Manson could just as easily trade in clichés as a cartoon heavy metal villain, the Shooter Jennings-produced ‘We Are Chaos’ is a stately and varied listen with subtlety to match the spookiness. Take the title track, which rolls along jovially with the wide-eyed cosmic wonder of latter day Beatles or peak Flaming Lips as he romantically croons: “In the end we all end up in a garbage dump, but I’ll still be here holding your hand”.
‘Don’t Chase The Dead’ is a rattling little desert rock beast, the kaleidoscopic lead by acoustic guitar, piano balladry and an almost doo-wop refrain and lighters-up chorus. It’s clearly been touched by the influence of early ‘70s Bowie and a little bit of Bolan – and then it all collapses into pure noise.
Oh, there are some gloriously weird noises on here. ‘Half-Way One Step Forward’ sees Manson showcase his love of arty new wave, with a pop-noir chorus he could have leant to The Cure or Depeche Mode: “Don’t wanna know, don’t need to do, you got champagne problems”. His crosshair remains fixed on the other half, how they live and their time in the spotlight: on the industrial post-punk of ‘Infinite Darkness’, he: spits “Just ‘cuz you’re famous doesn’t mean you’re worth anything / In this world or the next one or the one before”.
‘Perfume’ struts with a platform-heeled glam-metal T-Rex stomp, with Manson calling on Satan to “get behind me” as the record enters its final act – a reckoning. “Don’t try and change into someone else, you’ll just end up changing yourself,” he warns on the fiery ‘Keep My Head Together’, before admitting “I’m not special, I’m just broken / And I don’t want to be fixed” on the dour arena rock of ‘Solve Coagula’. By the time you reach the Southern Rock closer of ‘Broken Needle’, a part of you may be craving a bit of the air and colour from earlier on, before a stadium-sized wig-out ends proceedings with a fitting release as Manson concludes: “I’ll never ever play you again.”
Manson has described ‘We Are Chaos’ as “a masterpiece”. It’s certainly his best album since 2000’s ‘Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)’, but maybe it’s even more important than that. “Am I a man or a show – or a moment?” he asks on the title track. This record is the closest we’ve come to finding out – taking on us on a full journey to find out what lay beneath the make-up and the costumes.
You want a freakshow? Turn on the news. While chaos and confusion may surround us, Manson’s response this time is a dose of respite, mercy, clarity and his most human work so far.
Release date: September 11
Record label: Loma Vista Recordings