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Review: Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Pale Emperor’ Needs Some New Clothes

marilyn manson, the pale emperor
SPIN Rating: 5 of 10
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Label: Hell etc

If Marilyn Manson is indeed the Pale Emperor, what — or who, rather — constitutes his empire? Thirtysomething suburban goths who’ve shelved their dreams of slurping absinthe with villagers in Transylvania until the Corolla is paid off? Fidgety millennials whose barely know “The Beautiful People” from “Beautiful Disaster” because they were right next to each other in the 300-track “best of the ’90s” torrent they downloaded last week? The assorted staff of Jumbo’s Clown Room? Maybe the answer’s all of the above. Whatever the exact demographics, it’s not the zeitgeist, but Manson himself sounds comfortably resigned to it all on this ninth studio offering.

The Ghoul Formerly Known As Brian From Fort Lauderdale sees his coziness reflected in the spare sonics of The Pale Emperor. The usual noise Manson and his band produce, that claustrophobic wallop suggesting Depeche Mode’s trapped in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has been swapped here for distilled rock basics a la those other Reagan-era stalwarts the Cult (though the fingerprints of new wave are still clearly visible on this corpse). Given this breathing room, he stretches out and finds a fine vocal pocket; he’s no longer fighting to out-ham the instruments’ industrial detonations. Unfortunately, his lyrics remain porky.

“I don’t know if I can open up,” Manson admits amidst the dissonant sway of “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles.” A moment later, he kicks the self-reflective gate shut with an awkward, defensive stamp: “I’m not a birthday present.” The album’s subsequent entry is saddled with the title “Warship My Wreck.” That this sounds like a MAD Magazine parody of the Lusitania disaster is groan-worthy enough but also possibly the point. Now that Dick Clark and the Ramones are dead, Marilyn Manson could actually be America’s oldest teenager. On the other hand, the Marilyn of 2015 exhibits a discernible maturity when placed against the various slogans that helped build this temple 20 years ago — some of us are still giggling over “I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers.”

The Pale Emperor plods inoffensively from start to finish with moderate gloom and a similar level of hooks. It’s an overcast afternoon with only a hint of lightning (“Deep Six” has lean lycanthropic bite in its jackbeat; the band would be foolish not to keep this one in the live set until retirement). The emperor’s loyal subjects probably won’t revolt over this latest mediocrity, but one can’t imagine them rejoicing for it either.