Marilyn Manson is Best When Showing His Softer Side

Marilyn Manson can rock with the best of them, but he's at his best when slowing it down a bit.
Marilyn Manson can rock with the best of them, but he's at his best when slowing it down a bit. Photo by Jack Gorman
Marilyn Manson rose to fame as America’s favorite shock rocker. With his profane lyrics, drug-fueled persona and attire that can safely be labeled provocative, Manson thrived in the pre-social media age. Yes, there was a time when a rock star could legitimately scare people, something Manson proved during his late '90s rise.

As for Manson’s music, not only was it often overshadowed by its creators mystique, but it has held up quite well over time. Hell, even Manson’s new material is pretty solid as again rock stars go. Point being, Marilyn Manson is one of the finest – and perhaps the most underrated – hard rock icon of his era. And yet, he’s at his best when he slows it down a bit.

This is not to discredit Manson’s more up-tempo, hard-charging material. He has, after all, made a career on hit singles of that very ilk, hits like “The Beautiful People,” “Rock is Dead” and “The Fight Song.” Couple those hits with other non-single hard rockers like “Born Again” and “Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth,” and you get one of the more accomplished catalogs in the annals of hard rock.

Manson is a thoughtful, somewhat soft-spoken guy, as evidenced by his turn on Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, not to mention a recent sitdown with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, in which he opined on the loss of his parents and other touching subjects. And while Manson is never going to put out a power ballad (nor should he), some of his best cuts came not from a place of rage, but from a different place altogether. Yes, Marilyn Manson has a softer side, inasmuch as an artist whose surname was lifted from one of the most notorious mass murderers in American history can have a soft side.

Manson, who plays House of Blues on Wednesday, has always been an artist who, for all his eccentricities, adheres to a fairly standard pop formula in his music. Even his hardest singles – think “The Beautiful People,” “The Dope Show,” “The Nobodies,” etc. – all check in around four minutes and follow the typical verse-chorus-verse formula. On that note, Manson has never been one to shy away from more melodic tracks.

Take “Coma White,” for instance. It’s unlikely Manson is even playing the track on his current tour, if only because “Coma White” was only a moderately successful single from an album (Mechanical Animals) that turned some diehards off because it had the gall not to sounds like Antichrist Superstar: The Sequel; these diehards are way off, since Mechanical Animals might very well be the finest album in the Marilyn Manson canon.

But back to “Coma White,” which isn’t exactly a slow jam. The single, arguably the best track Manson ever recorded, still maintains Manson’s trademark screams. But, as hard rock goes, it’s a ballad, one that showcases Manson at his best, melody mixed with metal.

“Coma White” is not an exception, but rather, the rule. Manson may not record a ton of balladry, but what little balladry he does record ranks among his finest musical output. Take the aforementioned “Coma White,” or its sibling, “Coma Black,” from 2000’s Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). Or give a spin to “The Speed of Pain,” essentially an acoustic-themed love ballad.

As previously mentioned, Manson is a thoughtful, smart guy, so it makes sense that he began mixing in more ballads as his profile grew. Rather than be labeled a screaming one-trick pony, Manson was wise enough to throw in just enough melody to grant himself a little career longevity. That approach certainly worked; Manson’s first five records all went gold, and two of them went multiplatinum.

That approach has also benefitted Manson as he has segued into middle age (Manson just turned 49), when screaming for 90 minutes whilst donning a bondage get-up isn’t quite the look it might have been in one’s 20s. Yes, his new material is still chock-full of screamers like the recent single, “We Know Where You Fucking Live.” But counteracting those ragers are lyrics that find Manson exploring his feelings on religion, politics and our chaotic world. These are themes he’s often explored in previous material, but with advancing age and the maturity that comes with it, Manson’s lyrics – when stripped of the wailing guitars and blood-curdling screams that often accompany them – are some of the more poignant you’ll find in pop music.

Yes, Marilyn Manson will play before a sellout crowd at House of Blues on Wednesday, and most of the set will feature the erstwhile Brian Warner screaming in unison with a crowd that knows his catalog forward and backward. This certainly makes sense, considering Manson – when focused – ranks among the finest showmen in rock history.

But, in the midst of working the crowd into a frenetic lather, hopefully Manson will devote some time to a track or two that showcase the thoughtful, introspective artist he has proven to be. It is, after all, Manson at his finest.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale