The 51-year-old rocker hasn't been shocking audiences since MTV ruled the airwaves, and his stubborn reluctance to accept his waning position as America's metallic scapegoat led to some clunkers in the early 2010s. However, on his 11th album We Are Chaos, Manson sounds liberated from the notion that his music must offend or challenge his listener to be worthwhile. On the contrary, it sees Manson spending more time looking inward, reflecting on his own identity, and even engaging in self-criticism.
This record is an interesting and unexpected turn for Manson's discography. The legendary country producer Shooter Jennings was brought on to co-write and co-produce the 10-song project (Manson had been dabbling with roots music since 2015's blues-influenced The Pale Emperor and also dropped a terrific cover of the Johnny Cash staple God's Gonna Cut You Down in 2019). We Are Chaos is only country in the sense that there are a few twangy lead guitar licks and a fiddle in the credits. Musically, the record is a hodge-podge of Manson's last decade of exploring slower, more musically rich, and less industrialized sounds. Most of the songs are power ballads that are melodic by his standards, and the ones that do kick up the dirt (Red Black and Blue, Perfume) are more hard rock than metal.
Casual Manson listeners looking for the grit of his earlier work might be better off revisiting the classics, but loyal fans will be intrigued by his, dare I say wise, lyrical pennings. On Keep My Head Together, he offers the advice, "Don't try to change for someone else, you'll just end up changing yourself," an eyebrow-raising suggestion to hear from someone who's been in the business of shaping teenage identities for nearly 30 years. On Solve Coagula he revokes his public identity and exposes his own perceived flaws: "I'm not special, I'm just broken/ And I don't want to be fixed." And lastly, on the intimate Broken Needle, the best and most passionately delivered power ballad on the record, Manson sings with pained regret: "I am a needle/ Dig in your grooves / Scratching you up then I'll put you away".
It's arguably the closest Manson has gotten to truly excavating the man behind the moniker, and it's moments like those that indicate that even without the anti-Christ pageantry, the Superstar himself still has compelling tales to tell.
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