The final part, enjoy your Valentine!
The High End Of Low, by Marilyn Manson (Interscope, 2009)
The High End Of Low, by Marilyn Manson (Interscope, 2009)
Conceived after the break-up with actress Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen, True Blood), THEOL marked the return of long time collaborator Twiggy, who was playing bass for A Perfect Circle and NIN, since 2002. Now he takes bass, guitars and production duties, giving much more structure and muscle for Manson’s lyrics. The album starts out with the suffocating, obsessive Devour, don’t mistake it by its soothing intro, soon Manson delivers (in a very cavernous voice) one of his best verses ever: “I will blow your heart to pieces”. It’s impossible not to identify with his anger, his desire to kill the one who hurt him. The song goes on a crescendo until it explodes with MM screaming repeatedly “I can’t sleep until I devour you”. Pretty as a Swastika is a bursting, powerful, corrosive track, almost punk rock about destruction, hardcore sex and abuse. Another standout tunes include radio-friendly Leave a Scar (despite F*** bombs, it could easily be in an U2 record); the bluesy, stomping, Johnny Cash-esque Four Rusted Horses and ballads Running to the Edge of the World and 15 placing softer horizons. If you miss old Manson, don’t worry, here there’s first single Arma-goddamn-motherfuckin’-geddon, Blank and White, and Daft Punk-like We’re from America, all of them full of swear words, and his earlier will to destroy everyone. The key cut here is I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies, a slower tempo around 9 minutes long about B-Terror movies. It’s like touring inside a serial-killer’s mind, yet seductive to the point of making its running time seem to last less than an eye blink. Some might still miss Pogo’s presence, replaced by Chris Vrenna; because all songs lack keyboards, ambience and weird noises Gaicy used to provide so well, but my guessing is that Vrenna kept the keys as secondary, letting Twiggy’s berserker guitars in the spotlight. Gradually, Manson is getting back his energy and irony both apparently lost on 2007’s EAT ME, DRINK ME. High End sounds like a warm-up for something bigger and better, and by the ruthless collection of tracks here, we can do bet that in his next full-length release (due to later this year) he’ll be on top form.
2. I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies
3. Leave a Scar
Flavors of Entanglement, by Alanis Morissette (Maverick/Reprise, 2008)
Flavors is Morissette’s last studio album (she’s currently writing and producing new stuff with Rapper & husband MC Souleye, to a tentative 2011 release). Fueled up by the ending of her engagement with Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds (who traded her off by Woody Allen’s muse Scarlet Johansson), she found fertile ground to raise her own hell. Although sadness and desolation are the main themes, production was held by Guy Sigsworth (Frou Frou, Madonna, Britney Spears) who gave it a more pop edge in contrast. The deluxe edition is far way better than the standard cut, what makes me wonder why the best songs were kept as b-sides. Starting out, western oriented Citizen of the Planet is the heaviest track, with crunching riffs played on the chorus, and might remind of her old times as a rockstar. Underneath was the first single, and has very interesting drums, mimicking a heartbeat. According to Alanis herself, it deals with breakdown in communications. Tapes is most probably the song that best describes the whole record. Harsh lyrics like “I am someone easy to leave/Even easier to forget” and “I’m but a thorn in your sweet side/You’ll be better off without me/It’d be best to leave at once” are heartbreaking enough to crack anyone’s mood, even the happiest ones. Orchid is beautiful melodically, with strings and acoustic guitars giving Alanis’ vocals even more sweetness. The Canadian singer tries to find redemption on Limbo No More, talking about her struggle on moving on, and how it is difficult for us to drop off our wrongs and leave them all behind. It’s ironic and pitiful at the same time; because we lament things that hurt us, but we’re always fighting to keep them around in a futile attempt to change what’s clearly unchangeable: another one’s mind, convictions and nature. Morissette thanks her ex for his mistakes in Madness because only then she could grow up spiritually, even if his presence (and absence as well) makes her out of her head. On Flavors, Alanis opened wide her musical horizons by expanding her sound with pop instrumentation. It’s her most experimental to date, thanks to Sigsworth’s refined skills, who also co-wrote every song with her. He delights us with lots of clavichords, an enormous array of keys, loops, electronic beats and strings. All mixed together, with Alanis’ voice in the center and her always poignant songwriting, it leaves in the listener’s head a flavor that loving someone (and later, being abandoned by it) can be real cruel, but it’ll be perhaps the most valuable experience in our ever evolving process as human beings.
2. Limbo No More
My December, by Kelly Clarkson (RCA, 2007)
American Idol’s most prominent finalist & winner was facing great dilemma circa 2006/7: did she continue to tread the well successful path Breakaway put her onto or did she stay true to herself and develop her musical and artistic identity? For our good, she chose the latter way (but also the harder one). RCA boss Clive Daves was totally dissatisfied with Clarkson’s new collection of songs, and got to the point of offering millions of dollars for her to stop the recording sessions and get rid of that direction and accept only being produced and borrow her voice and charisma to a more, hmm commercial and accessible project. No need to mention she refused, and her refusal (mistakenly called by many as stubbornness) conceived My December, her greatest effort to date. Kelly was then dating (or getting better from their split, cannot tell) with ex-Evanescence keyboardist – and guess – collaborator of a lot Breakaway hits (Because of You, Addicted, Hear Me) David Hodges, who ended up being the main source for December’s material. First single Never Again reflexes Since U Been Gone, but reaches the goal more effectively, even nastier, as she says “I hope the ring you gave to her/Turns her finger green/I hope when you’re in bed with her/You think of me”. After a couple of rockier cuts, Clarkson bares her emotions out with Sober, a ballad about brokenness, accompanied by strings and acoustic arrangements. Her vocal performance is just perfect and forceful. When the song reaches its crescendo she hits her higher notes, screaming from the bottom of her heart: “Three months and I’m still breathing/Three months and I still remember it/Three months and …wake up”. If you don’t feel like your heart is being squeezed by now, then you’re definitely not human. Don’t Waste Your Time may seem more cheerful in sound, but carries the same grievances of former tracks, tasted in verses like “You held me/You felt me/You left me/But it’s over/You touched me/You had me/But it’s over, my friend/Don’t waste my time”. She emulates Evanescence’s theatricality on Haunted, a rock number about loneliness, despair and self-indulgence. Be Still happens to be one of the utmost songs off December. The slow romantic ballad is tender and passionate in lyrics and gorgeous sonically, even sparkling optimism when the singer whines “I’ll gladly climb your walls if you meet me halfway/(…) Be still, let it go”. But the pearl we found out is Maybe, where she concentrates all her complaints, grief, sorrow and anger to a countrysh arrangement. “I’m confusing as hell” she confesses, only to redeem herself by stating the one thing she knows is that she “wasn’t meant to walk this world without you”. It’s not self pity; it’s her consciousness speaking through her heart. How I Feel and Can I Have a Kiss close the album with decency and leave the listener with eager for more. My December did not make up to her previous albums’ sales, but I’m pretty sure Clarkson did the right thing by declining executives’ assaults. Here she sounded genuine, and did produce one of the best records of the late 2000’s, so far away from the superficiality and one-dimensional of Breakaway. She set her own artistry, and for that, we thank her.
3. Be Still
Sea Change, by Beck (Geffen, 2002)
Beck broke through the music scene with hit single Loser, from his 1994 debut Mellow Gold. After two upbeat, loose - and nonsense, I dare say – releases, he found inspiration, refinement and relentlessness within his divorce. Beck dropped off all of the paraphernalia, messy flamboyant production of his earlier endeavors and grabbed to his father’s amazing strings conducting skills (he’s born to David Campbell, famous orchestrator, whose work comprises Evanescence’s Fallen, The Open Door and forthcoming release, some Aerosmith, Duran Duran, Mariah Carey and Alanis Morissette songs). Sea Change is the type of record for you to hear at a gloomy, lazy, rainy afternoon to get its emotion in full. Beck recreated himself with this album, his songs finally sound strong enough to stand on their own, and all of them cohesive, solid and whole. Guess I’m Doing Fine carries some grunge feeling, intensified by Beck’s laziness singing, “It’s only lies that I’m living/It’s only tears that I’m crying/It’s only you that I’m losing” he whines. Lonesome Tears is superb, indisputably the greatest song he has ever written. In a very weeping voice he sings: “Lonesome tears/I can’t cry them anymore/I can’t think of what they’re for/And they ruin me every time/ (…) I don’t need them anymore”. The strings arrangement in it is unsurpassed by any other, lifting up the chorus, heightening its melancholic lyrics and atmosphere; hypnotizing the listener, mainly at the end section of the track. The singer mocks himself and his wrecked marriage in Lost Cause, “Baby I’ve lost cause” he declares around acoustic guitars and glockenspiels. But it’s in the dirge that Beck’s spark shines more brightly, like on All In Your Mind and Round The Bend, the latter ending up to be the darkest song of the album. His singing unites so much with the sound that it’s hard to comprehend the words he is spelling, giving even more charm to an already luring cut. Already Dead is another standout: only Beck, acoustic strings and a very subtle drum. “Already dead to me now/Cause it feels like I’m watching something dying” he claims while in the chorus. Things go a little less mellow in Sunday Sun, an attempt to cheer himself up, trying to find a way out of the sorrow he’s been soaked in. From beginning to end, Sea Change goes on unified and consistent, from the lyrics, through instrumentation and Beck’s own voice to the minimalist production, everything sounds tied up, right where it belongs. This record is definitely the greatest achievement of his career and ironically, an amusement for us all.
1. Lonesome Tears
2. Already Dead
3. Guess I’m Doing Fine
I hope you've enjoyed the list, as much as I did while writing it.