Marilyn Manson Makes Career and Epoch Defining Album With WE ARE CHAOS
Marilyn Manson, with a little help from producer/co-writer Shooter Jennings, makes the type of later career, and epoch, defining album most artists only dream of making.
The lead single from Marilyn Manson’s 11th studio album, the title track “WE ARE CHAOS,” was unlike anything we’ve heard from Manson in his near three decade long career. It was also one of his smartest and most artistic compositions as well. Such a powerful lead single often steals the thunder of the album, and can end up being the album’s only memorable song. It’s just the opposite with WE ARE CHAOS though. Marilyn Manson, with a little help from producer/co-writer Shooter Jennings, has crafted the best album of his career in every artistic and musical sense. The album is packed with brilliant songs, commentary, and (yes) poetry of the like that sustains and makes each song on the album worthy of repeated listens and contemplation.
For all the make-up and shock rock theatrics, Manson has always been, at heart, concerned with exposing the evils that plague our society and hasn’t shied away from holding up a mirror to them, much like his mentor Trent Reznor has. Oftentimes this has led to Manson being painfully blunt with his message, almost to an unintentionally comical fault at times, unlike Reznor. While Manson still resorts to the type of bluntly obvious lyrics that are apt to make one cringe here and there on WE ARE CHAOS, more often than not he weaves smarter, subtler, more openly interpretable, and therefore poetic, lyrics than he ever has. The absolutely brilliant “Don’t Chase The Dead” can be superficially misinterpreted as yet another zombie metaphor/fetish. Instead, it ends up being a powerfully haunting commentary on our current period of dis-ease and the cloud that’s hanging over every move we make right now, as individuals and as members of a community. “If tonight lasts forever/Will it matter with no tomorrow?” sings Manson in an almost pleadingly disparaging tone. Instead of taking the role of hellish prophet, Manson sounds more like a vulnerable lover. Like a sickness cares not for your politics, it doesn’t care if you are truly The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles or just a middle aged shock rocker.
The album’s opening track “RED BLACK AND BLUE” sets the stage for the whole album with its crunching guitar and haunting spoken word intro. Much like he did in “The Love Song,” Manson proves poetically insightful when describing a certain American sentiment. Manson sings “Sick, sick, sick of you/And all your attitude/And I’m sick FROM you/Cause I’m red, black, and I’m blue.” You can insert whomever you feel you’re “sick of” right now in American society and politics, but you can’t substitute the “sick” (racism, violence, ignorance, etc.) that is making us all red, black, and blue regardless of your politics or prejudices. Leaving the lyrics more open to interpretation, although it’s pretty easy to see exactly what Manson is getting at, Manson takes the message to a higher, and infinitely more relatable level for the listener.
Manson, under the obvious influence of Shooter Jennings, even makes a short, but poignant, excursion into..dare I say it…humor? “PAINT YOU WITH MY LOVE,” reeks of honky-tonk snark and swagger. The equally snarky and double entendre laden “PERFUME” is so obviously aiming for satire that it almost collapses under its own smartassness, but holds itself together well enough to serve, with “PAINT YOU WITH MY LOVE,” as a much needed respite from the rest of the album’s much more serious (more serious than Manson’s ever been) gloomy yet accurate reflection of the reigning insanity that is 2020.
The next track, the powerful and hard-hitting “KEEP MY HEAD TOGETHER” swerves the album back into more serious territory. While the lyrics might feel a little obvious: “Don’t try changing someone else/You’ll just end up changing yourself/I keep my head together/Better keep your head together,” they’re the most sound advice offered this year from any pop icon. Album closer “BROKEN NEEDLE,” which stomps along to a heavy rhythm and acoustic guitar is one of the most powerfully emotional songs Manson has ever co-written with anyone. Again here, the metaphor for broken record needles and scratched vinyl is much more interesting and moving than it at first might seem, not in the least due to Manson and Jenning’s lyrical and musical delivery.
Very rarely does an album capture the spirit, despair, and frustrations of its time like WE ARE CHAOS does. Even more rarely, does an album rise above its own defining circumstances to take its place amongst the most artistically and critically acclaimed albums of any time. Marilyn Manson and Shooter Jennings might have at first seemed like an odd pairing. Both are outsiders though, musically and spiritually, and oftentimes it’s only the outsiders who can see, and therefore comment on, the dilemmas plaguing their times most clearly.