Album Review: Marilyn Manson ‘Born Villain’
Born Villain is a self-proclaimed return to form for Marilyn Manson, or at least a back-to-basics approach on a personal level. He moved to live and work in less affluent conditions during its recording, and tried to further recreate the conditions of his earlier work by listening to the albums which inspired him when he was creating his sound two decades ago.
Manson has said that the album was heavily inspired by Macbeth and The Flowers of Evil. The latter is the title of the 7th track, and he recites from Macbeth on the intro to ‘Overneath the Path of Misery’, saying, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Manson explained the relationship between that passage and his career in an interview with NME, saying, “This is what I’ve done. What does it all mean? It’s loud, exciting, but does anyone get it?”
The world has changed a bit during his time making music, and however few and far between the people who really “got it” used to be, it’s a less popular way of thinking these days. Angsty teens will always exist, but the common subcultures of today are generally more colorful, and more positive. Anger isn’t very cool right now. It’s as likely that much of Manson’s potential audience in this culture will see the video for ‘No Reflection’ and wonder who cast Nicolas Cage as Skrillex, and why exactly he’s so goddamn angry.
Marylin Manson is a pop star who presents ugliness alongside beauty, asking the world to embrace or abhor him, with little regard for which. In that respect he may find a new audience among the acolytes of an artist like Lady Gaga. Or for his strong atheist message, which is more accepted now than ever before–though, it may also be less shocking, which could work against him.
The cacophony of Marilyn Manson has always been very controlled, and for all of the moments designed to be intentionally ugly, it’s easy to glean the prettiness below the surface. This is what always had him stand apart from his contemporaries in goth rock, almost none of whom remain relevant today.
Every song on Born Villain is easily imagined on the radio or as a single. He is a master of catchy, and totally singable melodies, bathed in grit and grime. That should set him apart just as much today as it ever did, but it’s hard to say whether or not the world is going to take him seriously. It’s rare to find a person in their forties or higher who can express their aggressive side very strongly, without sort of making an ass of themselves, but Marilyn Manson has well earned his credibility by now. He shouldn’t be dismissed, no matter how far he wants to go in exploring his dark side.
‘Pistol Whipped’ is an ode to spousal abuse, with lyrics like, “When I undo my belt you melt and you walk away with a red, red, red welt,” and, “You look so pretty when you cry. Don’t want to hit you, but the only thing between our love is a bloody nose, a busted lip and a blackened eye.”
None of it is particularly shocking, if it ever really was–at least not for anyone with even a slight interest in picking up an album by Marilyn Manson. If anything, Born Villain is slightly toned down from some of his past work, which had him shouldering the blame for everything from the Columbine massacre to the murder of an Italian nun. The only thing he’s really guilty of is getting people thinking.
The album drags on a bit, clocking in at over an hour of songs that seem less unique by sheer volume (in two respects). The only track to really break the trance is the very last one, a less than completely serious cover of ‘You’re So Vain’ which lightens the tone without letting up on the rancor of the guitar. It kind of swoops in at the last second of the record, as if to actually promote the forgetability of the whole.
It’s a good record, and very consistent with what Marilyn Manson has always put out. In terms of its back-to-basics intent, whether it goes back to the mid-90s and recaptures Manson’s magic and mystique, well, not really. It would take a lot for an artist so infamous to really surprise the world again, but on its own, just as music, Born Villain is totally relevant and a worthy record.