In the case of Marilyn Manson as a band, the group’s progression seems solidly defined by the culture surrounding the man. The music has always felt like a vehicle for vocalist Brian Warner’s sometimes shocking, sometimes simple statements. Looking beyond each albums’ differing lyrical themes, we all know Manson’s primary concern is challenging tradition and authority. It’s his calling card — a very profitable one at that. Yet throughout the band’s career, they never seemed to compromise their art for money. That is, until the release of 2004’s Lest We Forget.
Ever since Warner’s alter ego became the personification of what some might call a “mall goth celebrity,” things have gone awry. Between the departure of Twiggy Ramirez, the short-lived hiatus, and the overtly emo Eat Me, Drink Me, not to mention the currently incomplete film, Phantasmagoria, there was little reason to think Manson’s musical outfit would produce quality material. Then came the announcement of Ramirez’s return and the resulting seventh studio album, The High End of Low.
Before we go any further it should be noted that this album’s co-producer Sean Beavan mixed previous releases Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Eat Me, Drink Me. This is important because this person could essentially be the scapegoat for the aformentioned drama; after all, he was behind the wheel most of the time. Passe elements of these releases include the use of club music and synth (Mechanical Animals) and trying to recreate the raw edge of Antichrist without any weight by the band to support it. In other words, big mistake.
In short, there has been a lot of “return to form” hype, but, of course, it’s just that: hype. With The High End of Low, it feels like Warner is tagging bits of his back catalog onto other genres, only leaving out the punch. The truth is, nobody’s scared of him anymore, and as admirable as it might be, there’s no going back to “Angel With The Scabbed Wings” or even “The Beautiful People”. He’s bringing back that persona, but nobody’s attending the horror show for scares anymore.
Is that to say The High End of Low is a bad album? Not necessarily. There are numerous influences present on this release that save it from total annihilation. Looking beyond the redundancies and obvious recycling of cliche themes, Warner has brought in flavors from David Bowie and even The Devil’s Rejects-era Rob Zombie. Songs like “Four Rusted Horses” and “I Want To Kill You Like They Do In The Movies” feature slight blues infusions and (yes, we will say it) more appropriate Antichrist injections. While the highly overrated first single “Arma-goddamn-mother-fuckin-geddon” does not at all live up to expectations, the free download offer “We’re From America” and “WOW” suffice.
On another positive note, Bowie’s inspiration comes out in tracks like “Running To The Edge Of The World” and “Into The Fire”, the latter of which could draw parallels to “Life On Mars?” without even trying. Needless to say, the so-called “Hurricane Katrina” that Warner claimed to bring to the table feels more like the cliche tsunami from Deep Impact than a real destructive force of nature. While one could argue different definitions of “heavy” all day, when we first hear the term come from Warner himself we initially think, Damn, are we talking Portrait Of An American Family!? We all know what Warner generally means when he says “heavy”, and this is not what most listeners probably expected – an album filled with moderate techno and classic rock acoustic accompaniment.
It goes without saying that Marilyn Manson had a definite impact on modern music and the way we perceive mainstream media, at least in regards to controversial artists. But in today’s day and age, it might be time for Manson (or Warner himself) to retire. The different tastes here mesh pretty well on record, but this is not quite what the band or the man made it out to be. Return to form? Not even close, save for the band’s actual image. Worth a listen? Only if you want what amounts to every old hat trick that’s been carrying dust in Warner’s arsenal. In retrospect, this is neither a spectacular release nor a downright loser – it’s just average, predictable Manson, resting quietly in the middle ground between greatness and pure crap.
The High End of Low