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Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down review

Okay, more just some informal thoughts on the album rather than a professional review. Manson is my favourite artist and has been pretty much since I first truly got into music,┬áthe soundtrack to my later teenage years and a great and lasting creative inspiration to me, so it’d be remiss of me not to post my thoughts on his new work.

As a friend of mine has said, there are three tiers of Mansons’ works. Top tier – the triptych, second – GAOG and POAAF, and third tier everything after. Which while good, maybe even great in parts, has never matched up to the previous tiers, but that’s okay. This new work has naturally not transcended third tier, but it is still great.

After the Pale Emperor I said, with some hesitance, that it was his best work since GAOG. Now I say that it has been replaced by this album, and with a bit more confidence.

You’d be forgiven for having doubts. My first spin of the first single We Know Where You Fucking Live did not impress me. Thankfully it’s a definite grower (and the music video, while not great, does somehow make the song better), and is definitely better when listened to as part of the fuller album. That said, it is most assuredly one of the weakest songs of the album.

The first song of the album, Revelation 12, I find the weakest (read: least catchy), but it isn’t *bad*. There are no stinkers on the album (although I’m biased – however I’ll admit to never liking Heart Shaped Glasses). Once you’ve gotten past Revelation 12 you’re immediately in for some treats.

None of the songs released yet – WKWYFL, Kill4Me, snippet of Say10 – are the best the album can offer, and they shouldn’t have been offered up as representative (just like the single Heart Shaped Glasses was the worst song of EMDM and maybe on any of his LPs). I had a feeling from what I’d heard that the record was going to be closest to Born Villain meets The Pale Emperor. The truth is it’s a lot harder to pin down – there’s definite elements of these, but also of Holy Wood, EMDM/HEOL, GAOG and possibly even a little Mechanical Animals. Or maybe I’m just trying to work out where these sounds are coming from, rather than someplace new. You see, for a number of songs, this is the most goth-electronica Manson’s ever been. Really, the style is all over the place, and yet still feels cohesive.

In my opinion, after the few spins I’ve given it, there are three main highlights. The second track, Tattooed in Reverse is possibly the biggest surprise of the lot. I’m not sure I can define it. It’s weird, sparse and filthy industrial rock put to sort-of modern pop vocal hooks (and I mean actual mainstream pop of today, the sort that confuses me). And yet it’s also odder than that sounds – not something that sounds like it’d fit on the radio. It’s as peculiar as it is confusingly-catchy. I instantly loved it but I can see that some really won’t.

Another highlight is Jesus Crisis. For much of the album the verses, prechoruses and bridges are better than the choruses – this has been true of him for the majority of songs on the last few albums. And another complaint I’ve had for last couple of albums is Manson shying away from rhyming even more than normal. There’s a REASON people rhyme on songs, Mazza.

Thankfully on this song the opposite is true. The chorus is the catchiest thing Manson has done in AGES, maybe even since GAOG, and that’s probably because it rhymes. It’d be perfect in a rock club and I hope it comes to them rather than them still playing his hits from over a decade ago.

The song, however does have a bridge that, while good, just seems to come out of nowhere. It’s the song’s namesake, and yet it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, especially not lyrically. The rest of the song has nothing to do with ‘JESUS CRI$I$’. There’s also this ‘ah-ah-ah’ bit that comes after the chorus that lets the song down and I’d rather it wasn’t there. Still, the chorus is irresistible enough to make up for it. It’s full of the kind of dumb bravado and swagger that has been missing from Manson’s work since GAOG.

A third highlight and maybe the best song on the album is Saturnalia. So – did you ever want Manson to be more goth again? Here you are. This song sounds like somebody asked Manson to make a song that’d play well on a goth night. And then some. It’s the most industrial, electronica, and processed song on the album, and all the better for it. If there’s a flaw at all to be found it’s that it doesn’t sound completely like Manson – it’s SO club-goth-band-you-can’t-remember-the-name-of. Still, it’s a great track, dense and atmospheric and interesting as it is danceable (and pleasingly long). I guess it can’t be more of a surprise and ‘this doesn’t sound like Manson’ than Mechanical Animals was at the time it came out.

In general, the album is really Tyler Bates’s success. It was clear from watching a recent interview with Zane Lowe that Manson knows how much he owes Tyler. This is the most carefully constructed, densest, layered album since Holy Wood. There is so much texture and it always seems like there’s new bits of sound to listen to each time you play it – something I’ve sorely missed. This album needs good speakers.

Manson is sporadically a weak link – sometimes he sounds almost as bad as he did on Born Villain, whereas other times he sounds great. And honestly, that’s probably when his voice is processed or doing something different, and not so great when it’s his raw unfiltered wail he’s been doing last couple albums that I’d rather he stopped. Thankfully that’s less of a problem this album than before.

The album isn’t perfect. A number of the choruses don’t live up to the strength of the verses, but then there’s a usually a good bridge to look forward to. Some of the songs – like Revelation 12, WKWYFL, and Say10, fall a little flat.

But it’s the most interestingly instrumentally since GAOG and arguably Holy Wood. The lyrics are better, and less repetitive. It’s got some great catchy moments. It’s got songs like Tattooed in Reverse and Saturnalia that make you realise Manson still can surprise you with direction. And it’s got a mixture of filthy and┬ábordering on gorgeous guitar licks (such as on the EMDM/HEOL-but-better closer of Threats of Romance that only lacks for a better chorus).

In short, if you like Manson, get this album. It’s not a masterpiece but it pleasingly has surpassed my expectations, and it is one more step up for him since his fall.

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