I haven’t cared about Marilyn Manson in a very long time. When I was a young edge lord, his music spoke to me in some pretty significant ways. Songs like “This is the New Shit”, “The Beautiful People”, and “Coma White” were all anthems for kids who were jaded with the status quo. Not only were his lyrics violent and sexual in all the right ways, but they were also thoughtful and introspective. He made genuinely poignant observations, many of which still stand up today. (“Anti-people now you’ve gone too far…Here’s your antichrist superstar!”)
Yes, Manson’s esthetic seemed like the stuff of nightmares, particularly to white parents in middle America. But that wasn’t the crux of his appeal. His appeal was actually that as a person, he was intelligent, well-spoken, and perhaps most important, rational. While he made use of provocative language and themes in his art, he made sure to separate that from the problems he faced in his everyday life, or so it seemed. His calm and measured responses to the various scandals that were thrown his way during the ‘90s are still the stuff of legend today. He truly was the thinking man’s rock star.
But all good things must end, and for the better part of two decades, Manson has been a walking parody of his former self. It started with the increasingly cheesy string of dance-pop covers reimagined with his signature metallic grind. The fact that the only songs most people can name from Manson’s back catalogue are “Sweet Dreams” and “Tainted Love” does not bode well for his legacy.
Then there was his well-documented battle with drug addiction, a battle which he’s never seemed particularly interested in ending. How many live shows can you stumble your way through, and how many hotel rooms can you wreck before you have to admit that maybe you and the drugs actually just like each other?
Finally, and perhaps most cringeworthy, is the fact that he has been through multiple accusations of sexual abuse through the years and has emerged perplexingly unscathed. It is possible that these allegations are unfounded, but more than one is never a good look, especially with what we know now about the people involved.
All this to say that at a certain point, Manson just stopped being scary. Or at least, he stopped being scary in ways that matter to any sort of cultural movement. He also stopped evolving musically. As an artist he has remained stagnant. In some respects, he’s even moved backwards. His most recent record, Heaven Upside Down, was full of moments that seemed manufactured to recall the darkest moments of Antichrist Superstar, but with none of that record’s vigor or thoughtfulness. Indeed, his love for stupid puns reached such a level that not only did he name a song “Say10” (quite possibly the stupidest song name ever put to paper) but he doubled down on that with a chorus of “you say God and I say Satan!” Not the brightest moment for a man who was once praised as a lyrical virtuoso.
But with the announcement of a new record and the release of the title track “We Are Chaos”, it is possible that things are starting to look up for the erstwhile king of industrial shock rock. Not only does the track NOT sound like it’s desperately trying to recapture the magic of Manson’s youth, but it is a genuinely beautiful anthem with a chorus tailor-made to be screamed by disenfranchised teenagers the world over. The track stays true to Manson’s tendency toward instrumental simplicity and the driving industrial rhythms are there as well, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to longtime fans, but it is a bold step toward a maturity Manson has seemed so reluctant to embrace up until this point.
Now is as good a time as any for Marilyn Manson to rediscover his passion. The satanic panic which he initially helped quell when he surprised television audiences the world over by showing his ability to speak properly is back and arguably bigger than ever. Not only that, but rock and roll, a style of music once synonymous with mainstream rebellion, has been all but sidelined, and the acts that do remain in the limelight have none of the bite that Manson’s records had in his prime.
I probably won’t be rushing out to buy We Are Chaos when it’s released, but I am open to the idea that it might be good, and if it is, that it might put one of hard rock’s most intelligent and outspoken figures back in a position where he can really contribute to a cultural conversation, instead of whining about breakups and singing about vampires or whatever.
Time will tell.
Written by Syd Ghan
*Edited by Dominic Abate