The new Marilyn Manson album! Always an exciting moment. I have been a fan ever since I first discovered his music when I was in my late teens, and despite suggestions that I should have grown out of it by now, I have no plans to do so anytime soon. In fact, I wrote an academic article about his music a few years ago, so I’m chalking this up as research.
I came to We Are Chaos hoping to witness a continuation of the upward trajectory Manson has been working towards ever since he released several albums in the mid-noughties I was less excited about (Eat Me, Drink Me being a case in point). I was not disappointed.
The teasers, for starters, had looked promising. First single “We Are Chaos” – oddly appropriate given the current chaotic state of the world – combines interesting lyrics with the familiar Manson-stomp and nevertheless manages to somehow sound fresh. Although I came across an ignorant Youtube comment stating that “you can see that the music video was made during lockdown”, it has actually been produced by eminent artist Matt Mahurin and wonderfully complements the song’s dystopian yet hopeful message (yes, apparently it’s possible to express both sentiments at once).
The collaboration with Mathurin is a continuation of Manson’s habit of working with interesting people. The album is produced by country musician Shooter Jennings. Although the result is an album that is strangely lacking in country-sentiment, so those expecting an Orville Peck anytime collaboration soon might be disappointed (though I’d love to hear the result, but what do I know).
I usually need to listen to albums a few times before I can fully articulate how I feel about them. My first impression of We Are Chaos, however, is positive. Some aspects will be familiar to Manson fans: the strained vocals, industrial leanings and pounding drums. But there are also some interesting echoes of David Bowie and 1980s New Wave music, particularly in second single “Don’t Chase the Dead”. I was also delighted to find a new balled in “Paint You with my Love”. Slower songs like “Four Rusted Horses” have always been favourites of mine and it’s great to hear that Manson still knows how to pull them off. Think drama without becoming bombastic, though the song occasionally hovers close to the edge.
I’m not sure whether this album will win over any new fans if they expect the shocking and politically motivated Manson of the 1990s. This album is much more personal and emotional. Not even all the songs are marked with an “E” for “explicit” by Spotify. Has Manson gone soft?
If he has, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I like the subtlety of this record and its combination of old and new, emotion and melancholia, outrageous and subdued. But I suspect it will be a while before its secrets will fully unfold themselves.