Manson Wants his Shock-Rock Crown Back but Doesn't Get There

Jun 1, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent First Half, Music Performances, Vocals, Some Lyrical Moments, & Moments in the Production.

Cons:Very Sluggish Second Half, Some Melodramatic Lyrics, Songs That Aren't Strong, & Lack of Cohesiveness.

The Bottom Line: The High End of Low is a Good Record from Marilyn Manson Despite Its Consistencies & a Sluggish 2nd Half.



After the lukewarm response to 2007's Eat Me, Drink Me (which was joked by some fans as Download Me, Delete Me), the career of shock rocker Marilyn Manson was definitely in trouble. The album was made with collaborator Tim Skold who was then, Manson's guitarist, while his antics and such were no longer shocking fans. Manson was instead, getting attention for his on-again/off-again relationship with actress Evan Rachel Wood where it ended in late 2007. Manson was also facing a lawsuit from his former keyboardist Stephen Bier aka Madonna Wayne Gacy aka Pogo over royalties and such. For a few months, Manson became a recluse until the return of his former collaborator Jeordie White aka Twiggy Ramirez.

White, who had left Manson in 2002 following a dispute over creative differences had been working on his own Goon Moon project as well as playing bass for A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails (NIN). White's return to Manson was something Manson needed as Skold left the band. With former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland briefly joining Manson on tour along with former NIN drummer Chris Vrenna on keyboards and longtime drummer Ginger Fish. Rejuvenated, Manson wanted to return to the old-school industrial-metal sound of the Antichrist Superstar in his hopes to reclaim his shock rock crown for 2009's The High End of Low.

Produced by Marilyn Manson, Chris Vrenna, and Sean Beaven with additional production from Twiggy Ramirez with songs written by Manson, Ramirez, and Vrenna. The High End of Low is an album filled with various themes including America, shock, pop culture, and Manson's own personal torments. With the music by Ramirez, Vrenna, and Ginger Fish on drums. The album harkens back to the aggro-rock of Antichrist Superstar and Holywood along with the glam style of Mechanical Animals. While the contributions of Ramirez and Vrenna as writers of the music show some strength and put Manson back into the right direction. The album despite some moments show that Manson is starting to run out of ideas despite renewed effort into his music.

The album opener Devour arrives with droning sounds and twangy, tuning guitars for a melodic flourish by Twiggy Ramirez. With a driving bass line and Manson's raspy vocals, it's a song that opens the creepy tone of the album. With its dark lyrics and a chorus that is dramatic, it's a song that somewhat works though its lyrics definitely delve into melodrama as Manson sings angry words about heartbreak as it comes into a full sound of loud drums and blaring guitars. Next is Pretty As A Swastika, an upbeat, driving rocker with hard-hitting industrial beats from Ginger Fish and driving guitars and bass from Ramirez. With Manson's raspy, growling lyrics with droning synthesizers by Chris Vrenna, it's a song that has the same upbeat, angry presentation that Manson is known for with aggressive lyrics. Leave A Scar is another upbeat song with bumpy rhythm and swooning synthesizer melodies by Chris Vrenna. With Ramirez's loopy bass line and growling guitars, it's a song that has a great musical presentation. Manson's vocal is still good though lyrically, it's a bit melodramatic, which isn't one of Manson's strengths as a lyricist.
 
Four Rusted Horses is a blues-inspired number with an acoustic, bluesy guitar work from Ramirez with soothing, string-like synthesizer performances from Vrenna accompany the song. With Manson singing in his raspy vocals with dark lyrics of death. It's a track that definitely works though its does drag a bit in its five-minute length. The album's first single Arma-G*ddamn-Motherf*ckin'-Geddon is an upbeat rocker with charging, metal guitars, bass-fuzzing synthesizers, and swinging rhythms. With Manson's dark lyrics about the state of the world riddled with pop culture, it's a song that is quintessential Manson as he delves into familiar territory that works as it's a catchy rocker. Blank And White arrives with a driving guitar riff as Manson sings in his raspy, growling vocal with some menacing, angry lyrics. While lyrically, he's in the right direction, it's territory that's been heard as if he is trying to say something. Musically, the song has a nice rhythm with some crashing beats in the chorus while Ramirez and Vrenna create some fascinating arrangements with the guitars, bass, and synthesizers.

Running To The Edge Of The World is an acoustic, glam-inspired track led by Twiggy Ramirez's dreamy, washy guitar with Chris Vrenna's swooning synthesizers along with a smooth, mid-tempo drum beat and soft, sweeping string arrangements. With Manson's raspy vocals and dramatic lyrics, it's a song that shows Manson regaining some strength as a vocalist despite some of the lyrical melodrama that he presents as it's still a fascinating cut. The nine-minute I Want To Kill You Like They Do In The Movies arrives with a loopy bass line with sounds of a film running on a projector. With a soothing guitar strum and slow rhythms, Manson's vocals arrive as he sings about a song with references to a film being directed. Despite an excellent musical presentation of wavy guitars and haunting arrangements. It's a song that drags while lyrically, it has no imagination as it over does itself.

WOW is a mid-tempo, electro-driven track with fuzzy bass lines and clap-like beats though its riff seems to come from the title track from Antichrist Superstar. With Manson's raspy vocals, the lyrics come off as somewhat lame while the electronic presentation is overdone and overproduced as it's a song that doesn't have a lot of imagination. Wight Spider is a song with driving guitars, hollow beats, and soothing synthesizers as it has a great musical presentation that is almost trance like but with metal guitars. With Manson's raspy vocals, the song is interesting though its lyrics don't add much depth as it goes into creepy territory which isn't interesting to begin with. Unkillable Monster is a smooth, mid-tempo track with an arpeggio-laden guitar track as Manson sings in his raspy vocal. With its lyrics about a monster, it's a song that doesn't have much weight with its smooth-upbeat chorus as it tries to be both loud and soft while its lyrics dwell into heavy melodrama that doesn't work.

We're From America is an upbeat rocker with wavy guitar riffs, fuzzy bass lines, and pulsating drum beats led by Chris Vrenna's droning electronic programming. It's a song that definitely delves into rock with Manson's raspy vocals taking charge. While the lyrics are a bit repetitive, it does work as it shows Manson's strength as a rocker. I Have To Look Up Just To See Hell arrives with droning sounds that are carried by Manson's wailing screams. With a thumping bass line and slow-pounding beats with swinging arrangements. It's a song that features a twangy guitar as it's a song that has bite but not a lot of lyrical imagination in its description of hell.

Into The Fire is a piano ballad with pianos by Ginger Fish as it features somber string arrangements. While it's something different from Manson, it's a song that delves into sentimentality as it reaches the same territory of his last album as it's a song that is just overly sentimental. Even as it features drums and melodic keyboards, it doesn't carry much weight as a song. The album closer 15 arrives with a melodic, twangy guitar riff and Vrenna's swooning keyboards. With a soft, thumping electro-beat, Manson sings lyrics about redemption though it doesn't have much imagination nor does its musical presentation as it kind of ends the album with a whimper.

From various deluxe versions of the album are nine extra tracks of remixes, acoustic versions, and alternate takes. Six of which appear in the deluxe version of the album. First is a remix of Arma-G*ddamn-Motherf*ckin'-Geddon by the hardcore electronic act Teddybears. The remix features more growling guitars and fuzzier, bass-driven electronics that shimmer through as it's a more techno-driven track that retains the rocking presentation of the song. Even as Teddybears adds additional vocals for the song's chorus near its coda. Next is an acoustic version of Leave A Scar with all acoustic guitars performed by Twiggy Ramirez. With Manson singing the song with just an acoustic guitar, a tambourine, and a soft keyboard as it's superior to the original song in some respects. Running To The Edge Of The World is presented in an acoustic version as well while retaining the somber string arrangements in the song as it works despite some melodrama in its lyrics.

The acoustic version of Wight Spider does have some blaring, shimmering noises from Chris Vrenna in the opening as it's Ramirez's acoustic guitar that really drives the track. Along with some dark keyboard accompaniment from Vrenna and melodic bass lines from Ramirez, it's a song that is a bit superior to its original but is still problematic by Manson's lyrics. Four Rusted Horses is presented in an alternate version with its foot-stomping, blues rhythms and growling guitars. The song is more stripped-down than its recording as it features some soft percussions along with a thumping, droning bass line. I Have To Look Up Just To See Hell is another alternate version led by an acoustic guitar from Ramirez as Vrenna brings in swooning, loopy synthesizers to the track. While it's a bit of an improvement of the song, it does have the same lyrical problem the original recording have.

The four extra tracks that appear in various deluxe versions through iTunes, Hot Topics, and independent music stores include an acoustic version of Into The Fire (which is a bit of an improvement of the final recording but not by much). Other alternate versions from those various deluxe versions include alternate versions of Pretty As A Swastika, 15, and Arma-G*ddamn-Motherf*ckin'-Geddon.

Already 15 years into his recording career, Marilyn Manson clearly had an interesting one where he started out as the protegee` of NIN mastermind Trent Reznor, who produced his first two albums including the remix record Smells Like Children. When Antichrist Superstar came out with production by Reznor in 1996, the album helped put Manson into the stratosphere of the mainstream. He switched gears in 1998 to go glam for Mechanical Animals, it was clear that Manson's talents are in exploring the landscape of pop culture, America, and what kids were going through at the time of the Bill Clinton era. Then came the Columbine tragedy a year later where Manson was blamed but handled the backlash quite well though it would haunt him for years to come. 2000's Holywood: In the Valley of the Shadow of Death was a response to Columbine as well as the problems of America. Despite some musical moments, the album was however overwhelmed by Manson's own conceptual ideas which is part of the flaws with some of is albums.

With the era of George W. Bush coming, it seemed that Manson would have a chance to say something. Unfortunately, that didn't happen as longtime collaborator Twiggy Ramirez left the band in 2002 due to creative differences. Bringing in Tim Skold from KMFDM would seem like a nice idea but Skold lacks Ramirez's musical versatility and his ability to write strong music. This of course would mark the beginning of Manson's decline in popularity and in his musical ideas. 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque brought mixed reviews from fans and critics as its concept over 1940s taboos overshadowed the music. Manson re-emerged four years later with what many said was the nadir of his career with Eat Me, Drink Me. An album that chronicled his break-up with model Dita Von Teese as well as much-publicized relationship with actress Evan Rachel Wood. The album lacked all of the hallmarks of Manson's previous records while fans noticed that his drug and alcohol use had increased as well to the point that his shows became a mess.

Now that Manson has reached his bottom, it is time for him to get back as The High End of Low is clearly a step in the right direction. It's a good record but not a great one. The good news is that Twiggy is back while Chris Vrenna is given a chance to put some of his ideas into the music. Vrenna fills the void that was left by former keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, who had been another key collaborator of Manson from the early days until his departure in 2007. With Twiggy's strength as a songwriter and Vrenna's experience in production and programming. It seems like Manson could get himself back on track. Well, not exactly.

While lyrically, he does have a few things to say but a lot of it delves into the melodramatic territory of his last album. Some of which does get saved by the music that Ramirez and Vrenna bring as it strays too far into melodrama. One factor that is problematic with the record are the themes that Manson is delving into including his own relationship troubles and the state of the world. Yet, there's nothing new in a lot of the songs he brings where it's clear that he's running out of ideas. He used to be very engaging but now, there not much of that in this record. At the same time, the record is flawed due to its structure where it starts out strong in its first half. Then once it reaches towards the middle, it starts to lose momentum where the second half becomes sluggish.

The High End of Low does have some good moments but not much to hold it together. While Sean Beaven is a capable producer, he doesn't have much experience in working with other artists outside of Manson and NIN. Manson is known to be a very driven person who will do anything to be very successful. Yet, he's now at a point where the shock factor is gone. Audiences aren't interested in his music as much while he's becoming known for things outside of his music and such that aren't very good to him. Plus, he's still delving into drugs and alcohol which are clearly not helping him at all. If he needs a chance to become successful again. What he needs to do is get rid of the drugs and alcohol, get his sh*t together, take some time off to have some new ideas, and find a producer who is willing to help shape his sound into something that is strong and consistent.
 
Of course, one idea would be to bring Trent Reznor into the fold but that's unlikely since Reznor is about to take a break and doesn't want to delve into something that could be trouble. It should take an outsider and a producer with a lot of experience to really get Manson back into gear. Otherwise, Manson's career would be in big trouble and he would end up being a parody of himself which is what he's becoming nowadays.

The High End of Low is a good record from Marilyn Manson and company thanks to the contributions of Twiggy Ramirez and Chris Vrenna. While fans would be relieved that he's getting some of his mojo back. They would be frustrated over the sluggishness of the second half as well as some of the repetitiveness in some of his lyrics. While it might be his most enjoyable and consistent record since Holywood, it doesn't reach the strengths of that record or the ones before hand. In the end, The High End of Low is a good but inconsistent record from Marilyn Manson that is step in the right direction but is in dire need of another re-invention before he becomes extremely irrelevant.

Marilyn Manson Reviews: The Portrait of an American Family - Antichrist Superstar - Mechanical Animals - Holywood: In the Valley of the Shadow of Death - Eat Me, Drink Me


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