Album Review : Marylin Manson - Heaven Upside Down (2017)
Being Marilyn Manson should've never been this complicated. When he broke out in 1996 with Antichrist Superstar, he was the boogeyman of rock n' roll. Kids loved him, parents were terrified he'd transform their children into devil worshipers. He was the ultimate icon of rebellion. Fast forward twenty-one years, time and internet culture hasn't been kind to him. Stripped of the shock value that made him so endearing, Manson has to reinvent himself in order to stay relevant. His unexpectedly bluesy and introspective album The Pale Emperor was a good step in a new and unexplored direction, but since then...well, the world changed quite a bit. And Marilyn Manson felt the need to respond to that in Heaven Upside Down.
And it's not good.
Heaven Upside Down is a considerable step down from subtle and textured The Pale Emperor. It's full cliché blaring guitars and Manson's trademark raspy howls, which I wouldn't have a problem with if it was counterbalanced with thoughtful and sophisticated lyrics, but it's not. The opened Revelation #12 is filled with edgeless, cliché lyrics too, such as: Too stupid to call themselves evil/So they call themselves heroes and We'll paint the town red, We'll paint the town red/With the blood of tourists. This has to be the blandest criticism of Donald Trump's administration I've ever head. I understand Marilyn Manson is waging a war to Christian establishment, but these lyrics are the furthest thing from subversive.
The follow-up Tattooed in Reverse is, at least, musically interesting. Manson returns to mid-tempo, catchy blues riffs in this song and even draws inspiration from bluegrass and gospel music, which would've been super interesting in another context. Tattooed in Reverse is an over-aggressive and underwritten brag, though and it doesn't work. There's no lyrical concept to pain a meaning over the musical arrangements. The only song I genuinely liked on the album was the third single KILL4ME, released a couple days before the album. It's the only time where he explored this more gothic/new wave/Sisters of Mercy-ish direction he did on The Pale Emperor. It's also the only occurrence where he gives context to the violence of his lyrics, which contrasts beautifully with the uplifting tempo of the song.
Otherwise, Heaven Upside Down is not a very successful album. It is full of loud, boastful aggression but devoid of any real anger. Je$u$ Cri$i$ is meant to be that rebellious anthem where Marilyn Manson states he writes songs to fight and to fuck to, but that claim has been made a long time ago. We Know Where You Fucking Live is meant to be threatening, but I don't understand what it's supposed to refer to. Is it a song about mass shootings? Because it isn't clear if it is. Aren't these things supposed to happen in open spaces? Who cares if they know where you fucking live? Loud and abrasive guitars can old carry your record so far. If you want to reclaim your throne of boogeyman of rock n' roll, you'll have to actually be scary and lyrical themes are crucial to the process.
Heaven Upside Down was a predictable mess, though. The album is a direct response to...ugh, Donald Trump's presidency and there's no way it could possibly live up to it. Not this early in the first mandate. The majority of the songs on Heaven Upside Down are underwritten and disjointed because they were slapped together quickly. It was originally slotted for release on February 14th of this year and I'm convinced Marilyn Manson ghosted out on it because there weren't enough songs written and/or completed. There are violent religious/political figures in songs like Say10 and Kill4Me, but the rest of Heaven Upside Down is filled with hollow and bombastic claims that contradict what he was trying to do on The Pale Emperor.
I'm a long-time fan of Marilyn Manson. I own six of his records : Portrait of an American Family, Antichrist Superstar, Holy Wood, The Golden Age of Grotesque, The Pale Emperor and now, the unfortunate Heaven Upside Down. This is not a successful album, but it's not entirely Marilyn Manson's fault if the world passed him by the way it did. The world passed by every monster it created over the last twenty years. New icons like the Kardashian family are infinitely more terrifying than self-aware monster like Manson because their purpose is to steal your money and your precious time on this planet. Heaven Upside Down is an unfortunate record. Not 100% devoid of value, but it's blandness is inexcusable.