The High End of Low
25 May 2009
by Hugh Platt
A decade ago, Marilyn Manson was at the peak of his satanic powers – a Public enemy number 1 with an album at Billboard no.1 album. Rewind just two years, and he’s a creepy old goth making pseudo-sex tape promo videos, more concerned with his miserable watercolour paintings and his vanity-brewed absinthe than being a musician.
The schlock no longer shocked, and the rock no longer rocked. So Manson disappeared from public view. He claims to have put his head down, filled up on hate, and made his nastiest record since Antichrist Superstar. Has he actually been able to pull it off?
Partly ‘yes’…but also significantly ‘no’. The welcome return of Manson’s writing-partner-in-crime, Twiggy Ramirez, returning to the band after a seven-year absence, gives the album some much-needed muscle. ‘Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon’ rides Ramirez’s rubbery honk of a bassline into a fist-pumping, glam-stomp of a chorus. The potentially brainless chant of “Fuck! Eat! Kill!” is transformed by the sly addition of a bellowed “Et Cetera!”, thrown in almost like an afterthought. It adds just the right amount of glee to provide a sneering denouement to an America desensitised to the point of apathy.
Manson’s stationary cupboard full of lyrical poison pens, which were never satiated by those flaccid cover songs or the mawkish introspection of Eat Me, Drink Me, are finally getting the airing that fans have been craving. ‘I Want To Kill You Like they Do In the Movies’, its 9 minute run time living up to its mouthful of a title, throbs malevolently like an engorged vein on a serial killer’s forehead. With Manson hissing, “cut…cut…cut…CUT” over and over, it’s humid, ghoulish in its oppressiveness, and will make you shudder like a murderous fever dream. It’s magnificent.
But the album falls far short of the high watermark of Manson’s best. The High End of Low never quite manifests a full personality of its own, favouring imitation of Manson albums past, as opposed to forging a new identity of its own. Solid tracks they may be, but ‘Running to the Edge of the World’ is more than just a spiritual cousin to the ‘The Speed of Pain’, and the Stooges-rattle of ‘Pretty as a Swastika’ beats its chest in a manner all too close to the controlled-chaos thrusts of Antichrist Superstar.
In the moments the album does dare dream of a theme, it’s of a commentary on American hypocrisy in the face of its own self-made myth. America’s failure to live up to the lofty self-image it sets itself has forever been Manson’s greatest muse – manifesting itself here in bazooka blasts of vitriol like ‘We’re From America’, or the God-Botherer baiting of ‘Blank and White’. He’s spitting more hate than he’s been able to muster since Holy Wood, snarling out challenges to “Shoot up the mall, a school, or the president of whatever…or whoever wants to fight”. That there’s fighting talk.
Watch Marilyn Manson perform ‘The Beautiful People’ at Reading Festival 2005
But for every killer track there’s one like ‘WOW’, a gutful of sickly electro honky-tonk with Manson at his lyrically most self-absorbed. And after an record featuring some of his best material for nearly a decade, closing the album with the hands-off minimalism of album ‘15’ is akin to ending on a petulant sigh, rather than the defiant final middle-finger salute The High End of Low surely deserves.
The High End of Low might not pull Marilyn Manson entirely out of the existential loose end he found himself with Eat Me, Drink Me, but it marks a move to escape it. His venomous edge might not drip with the same caustic scorn of old, but it sees him re-sharpened. True, at times it seems Manson is still treading water in a pool of self-pity, but at its best The High End of Low is a goose-stepping, arse-slapping hunk of slutty death-disco. We’ve missed you, Mr Warner; we’re glad to have you back.
Sounds like: Marilyn Manson remembering what made us like him to begin with
Top tracks: Pretty As A Swastika, Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon, Blank and White
Marilyn Manson – The High End of Low tracklisting
Pretty As A Swastika
Leave A Scar
Four Rusted Horses
Blank and White
Running to the Edge of the World
I Want To Kill You Like They Do In The Movies
We’re From America
I Have to Look Up Just to See Hell
Into the Fire