I approached “The High End of Low” the way I would a corroded anti-tank landmine–hyper-cautious, and nauseous with anxiety: I expected to either be totally finished with Manson, or be reveling in his return to form.
What I got is what I should have ultimately anticipated: just enough to bring me back to the well next time. “The High End of Low” is a step back in the right direction (which I largely attribute to Mr. White’s return), but on my third listen through this album, I was thunderstruck when I finally put my thumb on what had been bugging me. The thing that Brian has lost over time could probably be mapped convincingly against a chart chronicling his loss of band-mates. His ego has spilled out of control and damaged his art. This is the second (arguably third) album from Manson the man, as opposed to Manson the band.
Let me be clear–I intend no character attack. Whatever his future efforts produce, I will remain a steadfast fan of Marilyn’s work on the strength of his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th albums. However, his art has become unbalanced toward the personal, which is a disappointing regression in my eyes.
There is variety, wit, and a sense of play in the sonic/musical qualities of this album. There is also a shocking lack of variation in lyrical subject matter. Listen to this record carefully, and skip to the next song any time you hear one of the following words: I, Me, My, Mine, You, Your, We, Us, Our. The first-person narrative repitition is mind-numbing.
“Antichrist Superstar” is an industrial-metal stew of atheism, young-adult angst, and porn-shop occultism strained through melodrama, three-act structure, and The Church of Satan. “Mechanical Animals” is a right-brain/left-brain identity crisis expressed in hyperreal glam, androgyny, and sterile poignancy in a blurry, blue-and-white, pharmaceutical landscape. “Holy Wood” draws paralells between the “Manson” character from the previous two albums with Jesus and JFK ,while weaving together themes of martyrdom, conspiracy, and nihilism. “Golden Age” is a bleak experiment in Dadaist word-play and electronica-cum-Nurembourg dance beats glammed up in zoot-suits and faux-silver tooth-caps.
“Eat Me, Drink Me”, and “The High End of Low” feature progressive musicianship, ego, synthesizers, and a total lack of thematic variety (barring a tiny few songs which feel half-hearted and out-of-place). They also take drugs from muse, to metaphor, to excuse.
There’s your mini-review of the last six Manson albums. Pick one.
I’m all for artistic growth, but forgive a burly curmudgeon who came of age on “Angel with the Scabbed Wings”, “Man that you Fear”, “Speed of Pain”, “Coma White”, “The Nobodies”, and “In the Valley of the Shadow of Death”, for not giving a damn about Brian’s love life. He’s become too literal. Not to take a man to task, but I’ve got to take a man to task. It, “wipes the floor,” with everything you’ve done before? Not remotely. You’re not more than the sum of former parts. You’ve, “got [your] fire back[?]“, it’s guttering right now man, but I’ve got faith–the kind based on on observation as opposed to hearsay–you’ve a bonfire or two left. Just get over yourself.