Review written by Chris Lockett: It’s been almost a decade since Marilyn Manson made a good album. The fantastic, The Golden Age of Grotesque came out in 2003, followed by the mediocre Eat Me, Drink Me in 2007, and finally, the mixed bag that was The High End of Low in 2009. Now Manson is at it again with his new album Born Villain, which he deems as his “comeback album”. A lot of hype has been surrounding the release, but is it deserving of it? And more importantly, does it hold a candle to Manson’s early albums?
First off, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. Although Manson calls this his “comeback album”, that does not mean that it’s a return to form, because it definitely isn’t. But that’s not a bad thing, as Born Villain isn’t trying to hearken back to Manson’s old sound, but rather taking his new sound and bettering it. So don’t go in expecting balls out Manson, (although many of the songs on the album are very heavy), but rather a much more focused and mature Manson, who has honed his signature sound and finally figured out where he wants to go with his music. It’s a very unique album, (as was The Golden Age Of Grotesque), and it definitely picks up where Grotesque left off, further revealing that his past two albums were nothing but speed bumps on the road to Manson’s next true artistic endeavor. And now that he’s finally arrived at his creative destination, the results couldn’t be sweeter.
The album kicks off with “Hey, Cruel World…”, an incredibly awesome song that starts off with a very mellow sound, and then instantly changes direction once the first chorus hits. It catches you off guard, and really grabs your attention. The song is then followed by the equally as amazing, first single, “No Reflection”. It’s a signature Manson tune, with its Industrial synths, dance floor ready rhythm section, and screamed vocals.
It’s at this point that you might think that you have Born Villain figured out, well think again. The next track, “Pistol Whipped”, is an experiment in minimalism. Literally, (aside from some brief guitar work at the beginning of the song’s chorus), the whole song is Manson talk/singing over a beat. And while that might sound like a turnoff, trust me, it’s not. It’s an eerie little song that, due to its minimalism, works wonders at getting under your skin.
The next track, “Overneath the Path of Misery”, is also very minimalistic but in a different way. It features very tribal sounding percussion that, along with Manson’s vocals, and the occasional guitar interjections, carries the song into the chorus where all hell breaks loose. Something else worth noting is the opening to the song, which features Manson reading a classic excerpt from Macbeth. “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
After “Overneath the Path of Misery”, comes “Slo-Mo-Tion”. The track isn’t as great as some of the others, but it features an awesome bass line from Fred Sablan that keeps the song from getting lost in the crowd.
The next three songs are some of the best on the album. They are slow-burners that take their time and, by doing so, create some of the richest soundscapes of the whole album. “The Gardener”, my personal favorite, features Manson reciting the verses like a monologue, and then pouring his pained and tortured sounding vocals into the chorus. “The Flowers of Evil” has the most synth work out of any song on the album and features a catchy, almost poppy chorus. Then comes “Children of Cain”, the only straight ballad on the album. It’s a deep and emotional track about how everyone is a sinner and those who try to cling to religion in order to mask that fact are full of shit. In other words, the song is signature Manson.
The last batch of songs are a versatile bunch, as “Disengaged” harkens back to the laid back funk sound of Manson’s 1998 hit “The Dope Show”, whereas “Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms” and the title track “Born Villain” inject a bit of a Southern Rock stomp to Manson’s Industrial sound. Then there’s “Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day”, which is easily the hardest, and most fast paced song on the album, (and is definitely reminiscent of Manson’s early work with Trent Reznor). Finally, the last song of the album is “Breaking the Same Old Ground”, which is unfortunately a bit of a boring song, and therefore a decidedly weak way to wrap up the album. However, if you choose to check out the deluxe edition of the album, you will find an extra song: A cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, featuring Johnny Depp handling guitar and percussion duties (no, I’m not joking). The result is surprisingly pretty good, and that’s coming from someone who has never been a fan of Johnny Depp, or any of Marilyn Manson’s cover songs.
The production on this album is top notch. Manson’s vocals sound sharp as a knife, as does Twiggy’s guitar playing, but the real stars of the show here are the members of the rhythm section. Just about every single song on the album (in true Industrial Rock fashion), is very danceable, and therefore reliant on Chris Vrenna’s incredible percussion skills, and Fred Sablan’s complimentary bass lines. Also worth noting is how multilayered all of the songs on the album are. There are incredibly creepy, as well as beautiful background synths at every turn, that serve to enrich the songs and provide previously undiscovered entertainment upon repeat listenings.
The Bottom Line: Not only is Born Villain Marilyn Manson’s comeback album, it’s also one of his best albums PERIOD. Sure, there are a few songs that are a bit weaker than the rest, but nothing ever comes even remotely close to being bad. This is Manson at the top of his game musically and lyrically, and is sure to impress his veteran fans as well as his future ones. Born Villain truly is a fantastic album that will undoubtedly secure a place somewhere within my top ten albums of 2012.