A drum beat with an electronic sleazy aura, a sassy attitude with a lyric to match that takes you back to “Great big white world” – albeit with a new kind of groove unfolding, and suddenly it hits you spot-on: yes, it is Manson’s new album, and bless-his-lipstick, “Killing Strangers” brings early on a sense of inspiration – what separates a good album from a grand one, and what made his 4 albums in the 90s a landmark for the heavier, freakier side of pop culture. Like the clubs kids that preceded him and influenced both his aesthetics (Walt Paper) and his love-hate assault on past icons and pop consumerism, Manson orchestrated a deliberate takeover of the 90s scene, obscuring the boundaries between alternative and mainstream. “Holy wood” was the peak of his gung-ho, and since then he has offered quite a lot to keep the juices flowing, but never quite delivering like before. That is why the “Pale Emperor” is indeed a surprise, in both form and content : whereas “Mechanical animals” is indeed the closest cousin, this is a totally different beast, thanks to Tyler Bates, whose innovative artistic contribution matches perfectly Manson’s current mindset. They may have met on the set of “Californication”, but it might as well have been a match-made in “True Detective” – a swampy, blues-rock bleakness, with imagery invoked from classic historical figures. It’s all there – demons and purification, moaning guitars, distorted morbid slow cuts, and when the adrenaline goes up, it still feels twisted – “Third day of a seven day binge” wears the glitter-excess proudly and loudly and “Odds of even” sounds as if a golden-oldies crooner fell in a wormhole and landed in Michael Alig’s Blood feast, tripping on acid. “Cupid carries a gun” in all its dark masterful glory heralded the soundtrack of last year’s “Salem” and feeds on the fetish obsessions. The “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” and “The Devil beneath my feet” rock on with careless fabulousness, and the menacing “Birds of Hell awaiting” has Harlan Ellison meeting Nick Cave on a synthesized crossroad. Boosting up its deluxe edition with acoustic renditions, the “Pale Emperor” features an appropriately ‘teased’ photo of Manson on the cover. A self-reference in the spirit of Bowie’s “Thin White Duke”, another playful reminder on pop’s a-historical self-indulgence, or a sneaky projection of perversity? A surprisingly great album and a wickedly clever re-invention, definitely.