Now come one, come all, to this tragic affair…
Branded by The Daily Mail as a suicide cult. Hailed by fans as their saviours.
Rocks bands have always been divisive, but when a teenage girl is found hanged, cut marks up her arms and an obsession with an eccentric band from New Jersey, then it was easy to draw blame; people needed a scapegoat.
My Chemical Romance never promoted suicide. Yet their impact and legacy has been tainted by their reputation, and their music has been lumped into the supposedly derogatory term ‘emo’. What is surprising to some, though, is that upon release, The Black Parade received almost unanimous praise from music critics. It was an album for the age, and now, on its tenth anniversary, it’s easy to see that the album will go down in history alongside Nevermind, Dookie, and American Idiot, as one of the most iconic rock albums of its genre.
The boys and girls in the clique/The awful names that they stick/You’re never gonna fit in much, kid.
Their first two albums, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2001), and Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004) burst onto the punk rock scene with a unique take on the genre. Taking the speed of punk and fusing it with pure, unbridled emotion with a taste of the dramatic, My Chemical Romance struck a chord with the alienated youth of the world. Just like decades before, teenagers had found a band that were making sense to them, but this time in a post 9/11 world. In fact, the band was born from that very tragedy – the first song penned, titled ‘Skylines and Turnstiles’ directly deals with lead singer Gerard Way witnessing the attack on the Twin Towers (And after seeing what we saw, can we still reclaim our innocence/And if the world needs something better, let’s give them one more reason now). The lyrics in these albums were violent, there’s no mistaking that: They gave us two shots to the back of the head/And we’re all dead now, comes straight from the final track of ‘Revenge’, but only in the same way that the Sex Pistols and Marilyn Manson, among other popular controversial rock acts, were violent.
Once again, here was a band that showed they were like you: they were different and they were misunderstood. But this time, teenagers were told to stand up for themselves. Indeed, the whole theme of their second album is ‘Revenge’, but the concept, while glamorised to an extent, is performed with such dramatic flair that these ideas were only to remain as fantasies. The problem with the adults, and the tabloids, was that they didn’t give their teenagers enough credit. These albums were a way to channel all those feelings of angst, loneliness and hatred, while in a safe environment. Every fan remembers the video to ‘I’m Not Okay’ where the band stride down the corridor, dressed up in prep-school uniform, with baseball bats and croquet mallets in hand. But this was never an actual incentive; even the video ends before the band actually attack their oppressors. It was all fiction.
Juliet loves the beat and the lust it commands/Drop the dagger and lather the blood on your hands, Romeo
In 2006, My Chemical Romance released The Black Parade, and their popularity exploded. The album peaked at no.2 in the UK Charts and three out of its four singles charted in the top ten, including ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, which spent two weeks at no.1. My Chemical Romance were no longer for those who loved rock, they were for everyone. Not bad for a concept album about terminal illness.
On a purely surface level, it’s easy to see why the general public enjoyed The Black Parade. Every single song has a hook so catchy that they’re all infinitely sing-able. Yet while a lot of commercial pop albums descend into a blur of songs that all sound similar, each track on The Black Parade is unique. Perhaps that’s why it feels as fresh as it ever did, ten years later, and played hundreds of times.
The band experimented with genres, story, concepts and lyrical content, and it paid off magnificently. There are epics, theatrical show tunes, painfully aching love ballads, and some kickass punk tracks. So many unique tracks, yet they all fit together seamlessly in a whirlwind concept about a dying man reminiscing on his life. The highs, the lows, the euphoric, the heartbreak. Life. Death.
Critics agreed with the fans and the public. Comparisons were made to the all-time greats of rock, including Queen and Pink Floyd. In fact, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ feels as if it could have come from an alternate dimension where Freddie Mercury was a goth (Queen guitarist, Brian May, has played live with the band at Reading festival), and ‘The End’ is a direct homage to Pink Floyd’s opening track to The Wall, titled In the ‘Flesh?’.
Among others, NME gave the album a 9/10, writing what is arguably my favourite quote about the band, “Oh yes, My Chemical Romance, the moderately camp two-trick outsider’s cult you thought you knew are dead alright. Long live My Chemical Romance, the outrageously-camp, loud and righteous new kings of the world.”
Rolling Stone said, “The Black Parade…is the best mid-Seventies record of 2006, a rabid, ingenious paraphrasing of echoes and kitsch from rock’s golden age of bombast”, and the album was considered by many to be one of the best of the year.
And though you’re dead and gone believe me/Your memory will carry on
Yet today, when I tell people that my favourite album is The Black Parade, I’m met with looks of pity. The tragic death of Hannah Bond and the unfair labeling of emo follows the band’s legacy like a shadow. They remember My Chemical Romance as the band that ‘the weird kids’ liked, or if they were one of the ‘weird kids’, they think they’ve grown out of ‘all that rubbish’ by now. But why grow out of something that was never trash to begin with? Perhaps some people associate the album with a troubled adolescence, but I’d encourage those to listen again with a clear mind. It’s a wonderfully camp, often funny, always dark, experience. It’s loud, it’s out there, it’s over-the-top, it’s unique. Nothing that has been released since (even by the band themselves) has bested it for sheer, manic energy. Above all, however, the album is absolutely entertaining. I guarantee that after the final lyrics to Blood, ‘I’m the kind of human wreckage that you love!’ conclude with the bounce of a piano key, you’ll come away with a smile on your face.
Now, throw on that black dress, make sure your eye-liner is on-point, and sing along with me.
When I was a young boy…
– By Alex Jones