Ponderation: Marilyn Manson, "Heaven Upside Down" (Loma Vista)


This one sucks you in. And reminds us why Marilyn Manson remains the poet of our time.

The impact starts with the sound – a murk that makes you feel like a blind diver in an undersea cave. This druggy sense of suspension has been an important feature, on and off, in Manson's work, but it's a substantial change from 2015's "The Pale Emperor," his hi-def debut collaboration with producer Tyler Bates.

Murk works for Manson because it reflects the current state of our perception. As our screen resolution gets ever more detailed, the content gets ever more ambiguous. Most of what we see and hear is intended to manipulate our subconscious, to leave us distanced from reason and instinct.

Manson understands and inhabits this shadow world too fully to represent anything with clarity. He uses puns ("I'm unstabled") to own the layers of meaning and identity we're always slogging through, and his characters, while leaving us confused, impart new perspective. In "We Know Where You F*cking Live," are we the terrorists or the terrorized? The oppressors or the oppressed? The tourists, the aliens or the xenophobes?

Each of us lives with the fact that we're all of these -- and therefore schizophrenic, uncertain and self-loathing. Manson engages this socially, for instance, via his/our longtime fascination with guns; we'd credit him with prescience about the October 1 Las Vegas mass shooting ("Fire away, I love the sound of shells hitting the ground," "It's time to just kill this crowd," "No exit plan here") if we hadn't grown inured to constant gun slaughter.

Manson also unites self-love and self-hatred on a personal level. "I'm not being mean, I'm just being me," he sings, and "I need someone to wreck." He recognizes his crimes -- more than most of us do – with no intent to address them; he calls his life a lie, just the way he wants it. Do we give him a pass because he knows he's a creep? Do we give ourselves a pass because we don't know we're rotten?

Again with the partnership of producer-instrumentalist-songwriter Bates, Manson complements his high level of art with a high level of craft. Bates brings more complex rhythms and stronger riffs this time. Hookier tunes, too, especially the doom-dancy "Heaven Upside Down" and "Kill4Me." Words remain paramount, though; Manson makes you wear out the lyric booklet to appreciate the resonance of lines like "Smile like a rifle" or "I tried to look inside you/I ended up looking through you/Now you try to tell me you're not a ghost."

The intimate rage and anguish in his wide-ranging if unoperatic voice suggest Manson's ghosts include those of his Alzheimer victim mother (died 2014) and his manic/titanic father (died 2017). When he hisses, with typical multiple meaning, "We're just empty shells in the deafening void of our last sunset," it makes us want to steer clear of the mirror. Our parents birthed and killed us, and we buried them. Orphans now, we have no one left to blame.