I am not sure why I choose certain beers to go with certain music. But tonight I have chosen Terrapin Beer Co.’s Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout to go along with my first full listen of Marilyn Manson’s new album, “The Pale Emperor.” There is nothing at all to make me think Manson has anything to do with chocolate. I mean, even the name of the album is somewhat the opposite of something dark, which is a bit ironic since Manson’s music is supposed to be bleak and stark. Maybe I am much more a smart man than I think and so I have chosen this dark beer with this pale album.
OK, not really.
I will start by telling you that I have high expectations for the beer that can never be met. It’s called Chocolate. Milk. Stout. The name tells me that what’s inside the bottle was I wanted to drink as a kid plus what I want most as an adult and that Terrapin has mixed them together. The beer is playing on my emotions: the hopefulness and energy I had as a child and the crap-I-wasn’t-ready-for-this-ness I know as an adult but if I drink enough of this beer the Adult Me will end up somewhere in the middle and I am good with that. Because really, that’s what beer (or wine or good food or cats) is. It is an enjoyment that brings to bare a break from doldrums and offers its own reality. Though it just happens to be with beer, you want that reality to taste nice.
And indeed, the Moo-Hoo does taste swell. It just doesn’t taste as swell as I hoped, because nothing could taste as good as the name of this beer. It’s simply not chocolate milky enough. It is a good stout, however. Just with maybe a slightly elevated flavor of chocolate that every stout should have. Terrapin makes good beers. I have had several of them. None would be in my top twenty beers ever, but they are worth drinking. Should you buy this beer? Yes, if you like stouts. But don’t expect a huge difference in flavor from other heavy stouts.
If you had asked me twenty years ago what I expect from a new Marilyn Manson album I would answer the same way I started writing about the beer above. Only instead of the word “beer,” you would insert the words “Manson album.” I still feel like Antichrist Superstar is a truly great record, but Manson and I have both aged over the years. We have gone though our ups and downs but we are doing OK, thanks for asking (Marshawn Lynch 2014). Manson has kept producing music. The album that followed Antichrist Superstar was called Mechanical Animals. Many reviewers will tell you that Mechanical Animals was a better album than Superstar, but this is a damned lie! What Animals was, however, was the first truly post-Trent Reznor produced album of Manson’s and set the band on a different course. The music went from post-punk metal with a little glam thrown in on Superstar to a more straightforward heavy glam (see: Bowie if his backing band were Sonic Youth, if not actually that good) on Animals. Since then Manson has basically stayed on the same path with dwindling record sales and less importance to new listeners. Don’t get me wrong. I think the band has had a number of good to excellent songs, but there just have not been enough of them on any one album.
Until now. The Pale Emperor is the album I wished Manson had made as the final part of the trilogy starting with Superstar and then moved on to Animals. Also, it is the album Manson would have not been ready to make after those two records. Manson kicked Reznor to the curb after Superstar. For the Emperor album, he kicked the entire band out. Doing something in the course I wished Mr. Brian Warner had done long ago. The primary personnel on the album are as follows:
Marilyn Manson – vocals, keyboards on “Slave Only Dreams to Be King”, percussion
Tyler Bates – bass guitar, electric guitar, guitar violin, keyboards
Gil Sharone – drums
That’s it, except for two songs, “Slave Only Dreams to Be King” and “Birds of Hell Awaiting.” And because of the streamlined band, the album itself sounds less messy and makes the songs have full impact. The album shows a more mature Manson sound and clearly Manson is comfortable in his new skin.
The first song, “Killing Strangers,” has a slow, purposeful tempo. “Five Years” on Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” is a close relative, and that is a good thing. When hearing this song I wondered if this album was finally Manson’s full-on effort to create his own Ziggy. And the lyric “we kill strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love” made me hope that the album would answer Manson’s eternal critics who say that he is leading young people to do horrible things (see: blame Manson, Columbine) when in actuality Manson always represented the opposite of that. Take the anger out in the music, not on another person is the subtext of many of his songs. The album, though, neither becomes Manson’s Ziggy nor speaks to his critics, and “Killing Strangers” is simply a great song to start an excellent record.
The next song, “Deep Six,” sounds like a song from the Cult’s album, “Electric,” or a Stooges single with bigger, more modern production.
The third song, and first single, “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” starts off with a vocal sound reminiscent of the Zombie’s “Time of the Season.” (No, I am not joking.) The bottom of the song is heavy and electronic. The single is Manson’s strongest in years.
“Slave Only Dreams to Be King” begins with what seems to be a Southern preacher. The song is about the restraints of religious dogma, so the opening fits. The musically minimalist bridge could be described as “soulful.”
Other songs contain surprises. “Cupid Carries a Gun” has a chorus that sounds like U2 with a third verse that features an acoustic guitar that builds back to drums and a wall of sound. “Birds of Hell Awaiting” is pure electronica that could be Depeche Mode circa “Songs of Faith and Devotion.”
The album wraps with the “Odds of Even.” This slow stomp through musical woods is the perfect ending, really. Encompassing all the good elements of the album, there are moments without the wall of sound and is just the rhythm section and guitar. This is a song Manson would not have attempted 20 years ago, but feels right now. The way Manson’s overdubbed voices come together at the end is another ode to Bowie, but the outro of what seems to be woods and dogs and someone looking for the devil is pure Manson. A Manson that is finally confident and full-formed, and we are all the better for it.