After two disappointing albums of plodding, mediocre material, Marilyn Manson has returned to form. "Born Villain" represents the best work by the band since "The Golden Age of Grotesque" and is expected to place within the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100. Some critics are hailing "Born Villain" as being among the strongest of Manson's decades-spanning career.
It's a deceptively sparser affair than previous albums. In an era immune to sonic overload, Manson creates fear with a new-found subtlety. On the album's standout track "Overneath the Path of Misery," he delivers an antagonistic, low-key reading of "Macbeth," lodging himself within the listeners' psyche before opening into a manic chorus of banshee-like wailing.
"Pistol Whipped" serves as the most unsettling track on the album. After a minute of minimalist industrial mechanics, Manson slides in to whisper dangerous nothings of sexualized violence. Despite being a sinister ode mutual destruction, black humor manages to sneak in ("I want to have your ache, and beat ya too").
The band has always tangled with gender/sexual norms. In the 90's, "The Dope Show" featured previously taboo content as gay police officers kissed in the street while Manson performed in full drag. Here, "The Gardner" takes a cue from David Bowie's equally flamboyant "Fashion." Manson delivers spoken-word verses, lamenting in the chorus, "I'm not man enough to be human. But I'm trying to fit in, and I'm learning to f-f-f-f-f-fake it."
Audiophiles will appreciate the extreme attention to sonic detail. Beyond melody, full soundscapes bound toward and away from the listeners. Sounds are included above the human ear's register, which, according to Manson, are designed to make listeners "feel nauseous." Clarity levels mimic the album's emotional state as laser-sharp mechanics give way into fuzzy desolution.
For those who appreciate Marilyn Manson's sardonic and dark approach to social critique, "Born Villain" is among the most coherent and intelligent in the band's catalog. Doing what they do best, Manson skewers the heart of society's contradictions and evils by embodying the villain. It's a welcome return to artistic integrity. As the title concedes, Marilyn Manson was just born that way.
(Johnny Depp joins in on guitar for the bonus track, a brilliantly campy remake of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain.")
Download these tracks: "Overneath the Path of Misery," "Piston Whipped," "No Reflection," "Slo-mo-tion," "The Gardner."
Cooking Vinyl Records