is Marilyn Manson
’s first album since parting ways with Interscope, the label that’s been his home for his entire career. Consequently, his new record (which is on the indie label Cooking Vinyl) is being pitched as a comeback album after years of mediocre sales and middling reviews. (Never mind the fact that his previous disc, The High End of Low
, was actually quite good.) Unfortunately, Born Villain
is less a comeback than a familiar run-through of what Manson has done better before. There are still some dynamic, angry industrial rock songs here, but the problem is there simply aren’t enough of them.
Leaving Behind the 'High End'
2009’s The High End of Low
caught Manson at a particularly vulnerable moment. Hitting 40 and splitting with his longtime love Evan Rachel Wood
, the goth-rocker poured his heart out on the album, mixing his usual jet-black rage with a moody, despondent resignation. Manson was successfully pushing himself in new directions, even though the brilliant “We’re From America” argued that he could still make cathartic, satiric music about societal hypocrisy. But the album failed to catch on, ending his relationship with Interscope. But while Manson has ample motivation to prove his doubters wrong with Born Villain
, the 14-track collection -- including a cover of “You’re So Vain” with Johnny Depp
-- is a little light on surprises. It’s solid but unremarkable. Its greatest failing, however, is that it doesn’t show much growth. After High End
’s engaging evolution, Manson now seems a little too concerned about sticking to the tried and true.
Strong but Familiar Songs
The album starts off strongly. The opening track, “Hey, Cruel World...,” finds him lashing out at all those around him, and it can’t help but feel like a mission statement for Manson’s renewed venom. From there, Born Villain segues to the lead single, “No Reflection,” with its bottomless self-loathing and slashing guitars from Twiggy, who returned to the group a few years ago. Then, we have the dark, kinky pull of “Pistol Whipped,” which makes love seem intoxicating and lethal at the same time. These are all fine songs, but a strong sense of déjà vu clings to them. We know that these are the types of tracks Manson does well, but because he operates in the world of shock-rock, there needs to be a hint of the unhinged and the dangerous pulsating through these songs. But as expertly executed as it is, this opening salvo ends up feeling a touch familiar.
A '90s Nostalgia Trip
Later on Born Villain
, Manson tries very hard to reacquaint himself with the late-‘90s sound that made him popular. The industrial energy of “Overneath the Path of Misery” is a fun, nostalgic blast, but more often than not, studio vocal effects and other gimmicks weigh down the menace rather than heighten it. Even the decision to redo “You’re So Vain” ends up backfiring. On one level, it would seem to be a clever gambit, transforming the spite of the Carly Simon
original into something far more toxic and sinister. But after Manson’s infamous cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” early in his career, taking on “You’re So Vain” just seems calculated rather than brilliant. The irony of Born Villain
is that Manson wants to bring back an era that now only feels dated. He’s looking for inspiration in an aesthetic that’s no longer fresh.
'Born Villain' - Bottom Line
For anyone who felt that Manson’s recent efforts like Eat Me, Drink Me
and The High End of Low
were underrated, Born Villain
might prove something of a letdown. Whereas his last couple albums tried to blaze new trails, the new disc plays it a little too straight, delivering an expected sound so as to keep the faithful happy. That might please the casual Manson supporter -- this certainly feels
like a Marilyn Manson album -- but its urgency and edge aren’t quite there.
'Born Villain' - Best Tracks:
“Hey, Cruel World...”
“Overneath the Path of Misery”
Release date – May 1, 2012