Marilyn Manson, playing Rock Vegas, moving forward after rocky road

Last time Marilyn Manson was in town, his adventures made Page Six of the New York Post.

The story: The fun-loving rocker went to a karaoke bar, requested Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" six times and when the stereo broke, he proceeded to shotgun beers with a samurai sword. Then he tried to leave, but his car wasn't there, so he appropriated an SUV and was stopped by its driver whom Manson's friends promptly pulled switchblades on.

"Actually, every word of that was true," Manson says of the gossip page item. "I had a black American Express card, and I said, 'Listen, man, sorry about the samurai sword. Can I just pay you for the night?' It was a narrow escape, but I got away with it."

Narrow escapes - from record companies, from relationships, from himself - have come to define Manson of late.

Today, he sounds as if he's in a particularly invigorated mood, simultaneously sardonic and self-effacing, funny and contemplative.

He cracks jokes and speaks of redemption frequently, an unflinchingly candid conversationalist prone to tangents.

During a recent, nearly hourlong talk, he spoke about his fondness for 5 Hour Energy drink ("I have found that if you drink them cumulatively, you can travel into the future"), getting "No Reason" tattooed on his wrist with his buddy Johnny Depp ("You know why, of course? No reason") and the lone time he contracted a venereal disease ("I got the crabs when I lost my virginity. What girl in 10th grade has crabs? I told my mom that I got it off a tanning bed").

He seems happy, an emotion that Manson was estranged from not too long ago.

"This is the dream," he says of his career. "You're supposed to enjoy it."

But in recent years, Manson hasn't.

He speaks of being mired at the bottom of an "emotional abyss" during the making of 2009's scabrous, uneven "The High End of Low," his last album with his former record company, Interscope. Then he split with his girlfriend at the time and did the same with his label.

"I had to realize that I needed to make a comeback," he says. "That meant I had to say to myself, 'I don't like who I am right now and I don't like who I have been.' "

Manson got his own place and lived alone for the first time.

"I had never really experienced the whole, 'Hey, you're a rock star. If you ask a girl to come over, she'll come over,' " he says, still sounding a little amused at the thought. "It was like a phenomenon to me. I felt like a kid.

"It was a bizarre experience," he continues. "I didn't become a recluse. I did set up my house where the windows are blacked out, it's 65 degrees at all times and it's dark, you need flashlights. But it's calming. People like to come over here and watch movies and listen to music."

Manson recorded his band's new album, "Born Villain," in this environment.

"It became enjoyable and inspiring to make the record," he says. "I would have people in the room when I was singing, which I never used to do. It made the record feel like my personality."

A moody, sexual album tense with implied danger, "Born Villain" alternately seethes and seduces.

Fierce opening salvos "Hey, Cruel World ..." and "No Reflection" are fat-free and feral, with turgid metallic riffing treading heavy atop a throbbing electronic undercurrent.

"This will hurt you more than me," Manson sings on the latter tune, which seems to be the point.

And then there's the panting electro striptease "Pistol Whipped," about a sadomasochistic relationship, and the sharp-elbowed funk of "The Gardener," straightforward rhythmic pelvic thrusts.

"If you make songs that confuse strippers, it's not good," Manson notes.

He's still an antagonistic, confrontational presence.

"I want to make up new curse words out of numbers or something," he says at one point. "I think my face is a curse word."

But for a man whose early records were suggestive of a sort of end-of-days nihilism, who once professed in song that he wasn't born with enough middle fingers, he also acknowledges that he's not oblivious to the world around him.

"You know when people say the phrase, 'I don't care what anybody else thinks?' That's not true," Manson says. "I care what people think, but I'm not controlled by it. I want people to think certain things, but art shouldn't be some sort of commandment or explanation or answer, it should be a question mark, something that makes you feel something.

"It's impossible for people to think that I ever intended to be shocking or scary or that anything I've done is shocking or scary," he continues. "I think what I've done has been trouble. I've caused ruckuses just like any bratty child or any scoundrel, but I think the only real thing that's important is chaos and to be confusing. The bucket of mystery, the minute you empty that, it's over."

It would be easy to chuckle at Manson's grand ambitions, which is fine by him, just as long as he remains the one laughing the loudest.

"I could try to change the world," he acknowledges, "but I will not change my underwear."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ or 702-383-0476.