Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos (2020)

“A neenish tart is a tart made with a pastry base and a filling consisting of sweet gelatine-set cream, mock cream, icing sugar paste and sweetened condensed milk, with dried icing on the top of the tart in two colours. The addition of a layer of raspberry jam is a common recipe variation. They are almost exclusively sized as individual servings, 60–80  mm in diameter. The tart was originally created in Australia and is mainly found there and in New Zealand.” ~Wikipedia

You’ve seen them in the bakery and may have had a few. Sometimes you bite one side and get one discreet flavour and experience. You may also take a bite that includes both sides, resulting in the perfect balance of both flavours.

More on that later.

“We Are Chaos” is Marilyn Manson’s 11th studio album and is a collaboration with Shooter Jennings, an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and record producer. It’s easy to write Jennings off as “country”, but he was offered a place in Velvet Revolver. Twice.

I did some digging on the process and the partnership behind the album and was rewarded with these reflections from Manson:

“This concept album is the mirror Shooter and I built for the listener – it’s the one we won’t stare into. There are so many rooms, closets, safes and drawers. But in the soul or your museum of memories, the worst are always the mirrors. Shards and slivers of ghosts haunted my hands when I wrote most of these lyrics.”

Right, let’s explore this House of Horrors, written pre-bananavirus.

“Red Black and Blue” unfurled with a dystopic flavour, with Manson’s spoken, reasonably nonsensical words heavy with evangelical and anti-religious themes and messages. It was a bit odd, before the track whipped forward in a familiar rhythm. My toes were tapping along to this showpiece of Manson methodology – the sound, rhythm and occasional synthed vocals were what I expected. It was infectious, but underneath the music, the menace was present.

“We Are Chaos” was restrained and accessible, which was a worry, given the content. It was anthemic and catchy as hell, as it appealed to the disenfranchised amongst us. There were no samples of maniacal toasters and was all the better for it – enabling a clarity of purpose. 

“Don’t Chase the Dead” chased the last track perfectly – the segway between them was amazing. It’s start sounded like a train, which soon turned into the runaway variety. It was calm, yet expansive in sound, with clever engineering bringing a multitude of components together, resulting in an integrated chaos. It then slipped down into a tribal beat, peppered by some Manson sighs and guitar interjections.

“Paint You With My Love” had me pining for some pain – things had been too polite… and… it was another sweet and musical opening. I enjoyed the slightly gravelled tone in Manson’s voice. It then shifted and capered musically, lifting markedly in intensity. As it progressed it slowed and included deeper harmonies and some cranky guitar.

“Half Way & One Step Forward” was anchored by a keyboard riff that sounded like a harpsichord. It reminded me of an old school poker hall, but is also used in Leonard Cohen’s 1992 “Anthem”. It hooked me immediately. It was weird – I was having a little trouble bonding with this album up to this point, but this track just… helped it all make sense. Some violin made an appearance late, adding to the musicality. This track will not leave my head.

“Infinite Darkness” dawned with a troubled and complex opening, as a sly Manson seethed his invective – this track had an old school feel. It was not as pretty as the others and thank God. It felt like the story of Manson’s life and may well be the story of many of ours. A very cool effects section was matched by a change in vocals and there were abundant shifts in intensity and instrumentation. This track had balls.

“Perfume” wafted in with a somewhat pretentious air, but it soon walked the walk. This was another old school rhythm and had Manson trotting out Satan to colour the mood. Dirty sounding vocals and vocal layers had Manson strutting along at his mischievous best. It was smooth like a tiger’s tongue, until it rubs the other way, drawing blood.

“Keep My Head Together” cracked open with a fascinating rhythm and some fat and dirty guitar. A full on vocal assault surfaced, but then slithered into the background a little , offering yet another hue to this musical landscape. This track had a life of its own, because before I knew it, the sound had morphed. It caught me out, again and again, having more changes that a chameleon with ADHD in a disco. Musically, it was brilliant.

“Save Coagula” kicked off with wide chords and another fat sound. It had fuzzed guitar down low, sounding like a beetle around a beast. Again, before I knew it, the track had changed in sound and intent, with many musical styles shifting effortlessly.

“Broken Needle” opened with acoustic guitar, Manson’s voice and little else. It established its parameters, then ramped them up. Flashes of keyboard and bass had me listening closely to this track that was chock full of emotional intent.

This was an album that displayed Manson’s emotional intelligence. His turns of phrase delivered confusion, bewilderment and occasionally empowerment. His messages may be a mirror that he holds up to himself, but they also serve as windows into our own lives. At moments a line grabbed me, dragging me into my head and reflecting on my current state and that of those around me. One such was, “Are you all right, coz I’m not OK, all of these lies, are not worth fighting for.”

It was songs of love in all its stages and forms, no matter how dysfunctional. It was songs of not fitting in, of knowing that things are not ok and not being ok with that.

The engineering was like the best Danish pastry – so many layers, expertly kneaded, pummelled, stretched and baked. The musicality and depth of each track was somewhat hypnotising.

It was stately, even when it was down and dirty, confronting and nonsensical. It extended Manson’s recent creative upswing, albeit in a surprising direction. It was calm and restrained, yet powerful and direct. Thankfully, there was no desperate antagonism.

Along this line, I was drawn to this quote from Manson about this album: “Making this record, I had to think to myself: ‘Tame your crazy, stitch your suit. And try to pretend that you are not an animal’ but I knew that mankind is the worst of them all.” 

It’s also worthy noting that The cover is a painting done by Manson, a self-portrait entitled “Infinite Darkness”. It seems that Manson’s creativity and skill is deep and varied.

Back to the neenish tart. This is an album with two very discreet halves. The first half has a calmer, more musical personality. When you bite into it, it’s an enjoyable experience. The second half is more of a monster, retaining the clever production, but having a much more raucous edge. Bite into that and it’s a different, but just as enjoyable experience.

Sample both of the them and it’s a tasty treat indeed. The addition of Shooter Jennings as a recipe variation adds much to the banquet.

Eat it all at once, the way it was intended.


Greg Noble. 

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