It’s almost amazing to think how scared society was of Marilyn Manson when they were at their peak of notoriety in the mid-to-late 90s. More than a decade on and they’re still going, though the release of a new album is less of a media event. If the shock rockers don’t shock, do they still rock?
The answer to that is a definite ‘yes’, based on the evidence of Born Villain. If anything, it’s a rebirth of sorts for them and possibly their best release since 1998’s Mechanical Animals, which is still one of the best rock albums of its day and the response to anyone who writes Marilyn Manson off as a creative force.
Since then, it’s been a long, strange trip with Marilyn the man hitting the celebrity gossip columns more often than his band have hit the heights musically. High profile relationships with Dita von Teese and Rachel Evan Wood have come and gone, and the last couple of albums were interesting if not thrilling.
With their Interscope contract up, Born Villain finds the band seemingly hungrier and more ready to let loose than they have been in a while, and Marilyn’s descriptions of it being influenced by Killing Joke and The Birthday Party were as promising as Twiggy Ramirez‘s claim that it was a ‘punk rock Mechanical Animals’. As it turns out, both were right.
What made that album so great was that Marilyn turned his attention from baiting the moral majority to inward reflection, creating some coruscatingly personal lyrics and incredible songs to fit them. That legacy shines through on Born Villain’s album closer Breaking the Same Old Ground, which is easily the best song they’ve released since then.
Not that it’s all emotional ‘ballads’ of course, this is actually one of the hard-rocking Marilyn Manson albums yet, and lead single No Reflection shows how the personal lyrics can merge with ferocious music to great effect. Identity has always been a big theme in Marilyn’s songs, unsurprisingly, but he’s never been quite so blunt as: “I don’t know which me that I love, got no reflection.”
The return of Twiggy to the group has certainly paid off better on Born Vilain than it did on The High End Of Low, and he contributes to most of the music, along with Chris Vrenna and it’s sometimes a punishing experience listening to it. You can certainly hear the influences of post-punk in there, with the odd Joy Division bassline creeping through.
But while the influences are evident, what’s more evident is that this is very much a Marilyn Manson album and a very good one. If a struggle for personal identity will always be a theme, in the lyrics, they seem to have rediscovered their musical identity and Born Villain is a great return to very top form. It might not scare the politicians, but that doesn’t mean Marilyn Manson aren’t relevant anymore.