Manson seems to write lyrics to sell bad T-shirts on ‘Heaven Upside Down’
I’m a bit too young to remember when Marilyn Manson was “scary.”
At some point in the not too distant past, the industrial rocker came to symbolize that which was to be frightened of, acting as the focal point of a 1990s moral panic.
But now, in a world where artists like Justin Bieber and Lil Uzi Vert are open about their reverence for him, can Manson really be seen as scary anymore?
Don’t worry about the bigger implications of that question, because Manson answers the question on his own his new record “Heaven Upside Down,” and the answer is a sort of ambivalent “probably not.”
The album is a remarkably top heavy one. The first five tracks are all, more or less, fairly strong bits of pop-influenced industrial metal that would fit in well on your favorite new rock radio station. The second half of the 10-track album, though, falls apart into varying degrees of forgettable and I-wish-they-were-forgettable.
“Tattooed in Reverse,” the album’s second cut, is the most fun I’ve ever had with a Marilyn Manson track. The melody of the chorus is brilliantly catchy, and I’ve had it stuck in my head for days now. That melody is laid over a moody, lurching guitar part, and Manson comes with a creepy sort of aggression that almost made me see why he had the reputation he did for so many years.
However, “Tattooed in Reverse,” which, I remind you, is only the second song on the album, is the last time throughout “Heaven Upside Down” that the lyrics didn’t leave me feeling vaguely embarrassed to be listening.
Manson seems to have a habit of crafting many of the songs on this record around catchphrases that could be easily emblazoned on a T-shirt and sold at a Hot Topic. They’re that bad.
Some of the early tracks have enough meat to them to make up for the cheese factor, though. “WE KNOW WHERE YOU F***ING LIVE,” for example, has a fairly grating chorus — which is just the title of the song — when it’s written out like that, but when Manson is screaming it at the top of his lungs, it feels powerful. It feels like something you can chant along to at a concert. You might feel dumb when you get home from the concert, but at least you’ll have fun there.
Similarly, “SAY10” (get it?) also feels a bit cloying, with Manson screeching “You say God, and I say Satan” over and over on the chorus. Once again, it’s a groan-inducing line, but the power of Manson’s caterwaul makes it forgivable.
Things go off the rails in the bridge for “SAY10,” though. Manson tells listeners, “Cocaine and Abel, I don’t baptize w****s, / I’m a legend, I’m not a fable.” He repeats this three times, winking at the listener over the cleverness of that Cocaine and Abel pun. And, who knows; maybe I would’ve thought this was clever when I was 15. But now, I just have no idea what he’s actually trying to say.
My thoughts on the next track, “KILL4ME” are much the same as the past two, except this one kind of sounds like the Mark Ronson era of Queens of the Stone Age that we’re currently living in, so that’s another way Manson gets me to forgive his lyrics.
But “KILL4ME” is the last track on the first half of the album, so that means that things just fall apart from here.
They fall apart in truly spectacular fashion on “JE$U$ CRI$I$,” a song that opens with such a disgustingly poorly written chorus that it needs to be printed here in its entirety.
Manson tells the listener, “I write songs to fight and to f*** to. / If you wanna fight, then I’ll fight you. / If you wanna f***, I will f*** you. / Make up your mind, or I’ll make it up for you.”
This is, without a doubt, some of the worst writing I’ve ever come across in popular music. These words will be burned into my mind for some time to come.
And Manson makes sure you remember it, repeating that chorus three times before we get to the most interesting parts of the song, where he falls back on his oft-repeated trick of just screeching the title of the song.
But it sounded so good when he was doing it here, and the bridge sounded so different from what had come up with until this point on the track that I thought it had reached a turning point.
Instead, Manson was only giving me a thirty second or so respite from the worst chorus of the year. As soon as I heard the words “I write songs …,” I very nearly gave up on the record.
It’s truly a shame that Manson has fallen back on schlocky, shock-value habits. His previous record, “The Pale Emperor,” was the most mature in his discography. It sounded a bit dangerous, the way Manson is supposed to sound.
Here, though, he just seems concerned with giving today’s misanthropic youth a new phrase to graffiti in their biology notebooks.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Album: ‘Heaven Upside Down’
Artist: Marilyn Manson
Label: Loma Vista, Caroline
Best Track: ‘Tattooed in Reverse’
Worst Track: ‘JE$U$ CRI$I$’