As Marilyn Manson approaches 50 years old, the world no longer is afraid of him. It's just not sure what to do with him, either. At times, it seems Manson doesn't know what to do with himself, but one thing he loves to do keep himself entertained. As we speak, I remind him that in an earlier conversation with me, he referred to Phoenix as the methamphetamine capital of the United States, to which he tells me, "That would make you a meth-matician."
It's been more than 15 years since Manson was shocking the world, scaring parents, and taking heat for the Columbine High School massacre. He was the perfect replacement as poster boy for the goth community after his mentor, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, disappeared from the limelight as the pressure of writing the follow-up to 1994's The Downward Spiral became too much. It was Reznor who discovered Manson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and took him under his wing, signing the band to his Interscope imprint, Nothing Records. Reznor remixed and revamped the band's debut record, Portrait of an American Family, before producing Manson's masterpiece, Antichrist Superstar.
With Reznor in a drug-induced state of seclusion, Manson embraced the role of antihero. The relationship between the two dissolved, but Reznor already had transformed Brian Warner from a lanky journalist into one of the most feared figures in the history of rock 'n' roll.
Manson's popularity began to decline after 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque, and much of the material released afterward failed to capture the essence of his band's previous efforts, even with the return of Manson's partner in crime, Twiggy Ramirez, in 2008. The once-laser-sharp God of Fuck, who could take down the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Jon Stewart, or Bill Maher on national television, had lost his edge.
Manson knew it was time for a change, so he approached an unlikely candidate in film composer Tyler Bates, whom he met when making a cameo on the TV show Californication, to write and produce his ninth record, The Pale Emperor.
"I just saw someone that had an enormous amount of talent, who needed to have a different type of a creative experience in order to draw a new dimension of his talent to the forefront," Bates says.
This would turn out to be a much more organic writing and recording process than Manson was used to. The pair set up shop in Bates' home studio and sat face to face with just a guitar and microphone.
"I was his day job, and he'd work with me around 5 p.m., when the sun was setting. We never talked about what we were going to do. We didn't say we were gonna do something in the style of this or that. It just happened" Manson says.
It didn't take Manson long to realize he was working in the right place. Some strange coincidences occurred early in the writing process.
When he decided to move out of his home above a liquor store in Hollywood, he went house-hunting and ended up purchasing the house of actor Michael Massee, who accidentally shot Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow in 1993. Ironically, Manson ended up playing the character of Sam Crow on the TV show Sons of Anarchy. Then after walking into Bates' bathroom to take a piss during a recording session, Manson noticed on a plaque on the wall for The Crow: City of Angels, and saw that Bates' former band had a song on the soundtrack.
"I said [to Bates], 'This is not any longer a conversation musically between you and I; this is now a sentence which turned into a paragraph which turned into a story.'"
The results are a stripped-down, distorted, bluesy, 10-song cinematic kill fest with plenty of raw emotion and destruction. Many of the vocals were tracked during the first take.
"What I pushed him to do was be honest, open, and genuine," Bates says. "There's obviously imperfections in some of the performances, but to me, it feels more genuine and it feels more authentic.
Opener "Killing Strangers" starts with a sexy death-stomp and Manson's opening word play, "This world doesn't need no opera / We're here for the operation / We don't need a bigger knife / 'Cause we got guns." The record brims with Manson's personality and is a nice return to form, but if you're looking for another Antichrist Superstar or Mechanical Animals, this may not be for you. The real question is, do you like your Marilyn Manson organic or processed?
The record climaxes with the eerie "Warship My Wreck," the closest thing you'll find to a song from the band's late-'90s catalog. It's also Manson's finest lyrical moment on the record, with the line, "Cannot say I'm breaking the rules if I can glue them back together."
"I watch more movies than Tyler, but he watches the same movie more often than I do, because he scores it. I think he contoured and shaped the musical keys and the notes, and he shifted me into a different range that I don't normally sing in, but he crafted it for me. I feel like my voice fits like a glove on this record, and I've never really sang that way. But I can sing it acoustically or a cappella and not lose my voice," Manson says.
It's clear that Manson is not the same artist he was when he was wiping his ass with the American flag and giving Christians something to talk about, but you have to wonder exactly what his legacy will be.
"I know I've made my scratches and dents in the world, for whatever it's worth, but I think I just want to be remembered as someone who finally admitted who they were and was not afraid to be that and who would not be fucked with," Manson says. "This year, my birthday was 1/5/15. It's the year only I could sit on a throne and call myself the pale emperor."
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